Why we love cats and cats love us: the scientists' answer

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Why we love cats and cats love us: the scientists' answer

There are approximately 40 different species in the cat family - from giant lions and tigers to tiny African black-footed or spotted-red cats. And almost all of them prefer to remain independent. Only Felis catus, i.e. domestic cats, decided that they would rather live with humans than in the wild. They settled next to us around the time when ancient people first invented granaries for storing grain and mice started to live there, which cats began to hunt. This skill of theirs marked the beginning of a great friendship.

But why do we really love cats so much? And do they love us in return? Livescience has collected everything we know about the furry purrs and seems to have found the answer.

When were cats domesticated?

Archaeological evidence shows that cats have been with us for about 10,000 years. The ancestor of pets was a subspecies of wild cats Felis silvestris lybica, which lived in the Middle East. For the first time, archaeologists found traces of felines in the territory of modern Turkey. It was there that they separated from their wild relatives and linked their fate with people. Cats were spread around the world by ships. Scientists assume that sailors took them with them to protect their cargo from rats and mice. And in new lands, some cats escaped and settled in previously unexplored territories.

In Eastern Europe, the first cat tracks were found around 4400 BC, and in 2016, in northern Germany, scientists excavated a Viking site where they found the remains of animals whose DNA was related to that of Egyptian cats. This site dates back to the period between 700 and 1000 AD. The oldest known burial of a domestic cat was found in Cyprus. There, in a 9,500-year-old grave, they found human and cat skeletons next to each other. And in China, they found the remains of cats aged 5300 years. Whiskered purrs are one of our oldest friends.

Why we love cats and cats love us: the scientists' answer

What breeds of cats are there?

In fact, there is not much diversity in the cat kingdom. If you put a Chihuahua and a St. Bernard next to each other, the difference between them will be much greater than, say, between a Sphynx cat and a big fluffy Maine Coon. This is because dogs were bred by people for different tasks: hunting, grazing, property protection, etc. Cats, on the other hand, have had only two tasks for thousands of years: catching mice and being pets. There are differences in the number of breeds: the World Cat Federation recognizes 64 cat breeds, while the Cat Fanciers Association recognizes only 40. However, most of these breeds are less than 100 years old - people have always loved cats simply for what they are.

How smart are cats?

The debate over who is smarter - cats or dogs - is more than a hundred years old. But there is no exact answer. The intelligence of these animals is formed differently and is adapted to different tasks. A dog has to be obedient, know and understand its owner and be able to follow his commands. In cats, people appreciate their ability to assess the space around them in search of prey and hunt it on their own.

However, this does not mean that cats are indifferent to people. For example, a 2013 study published in the journal Animal Cognition showed that cats can distinguish the voices of their owners.

However, scientists who work with cats say that this is not an easy task. Furry animals do not like unfamiliar places and strangers, so it is very difficult to get them to demonstrate their mental abilities in a laboratory. Where a dog is happy to play with a researcher, a cat would rather climb into the hands of its owner and hide its face in his palms. Therefore, a cat that has learned to open the food locker at home and makes people a little angry by doing so is unlikely to show this talent to a researcher.

In addition, cats are naturally loners, so they have fewer social signals. While dogs are able to distinguish between who is a friend of their owners and who wants to harm them and react accordingly, cats do not understand such nuances - they have not been taught to work closely with bipeds. In other words, cats are quite intelligent, at least when it comes to the tasks that a lone hunter needs to survive. They just don't care if you know it.

Why we love cats and cats love us: the scientists' answer

Do cats have emotions?

What has been established for certain about cats is that they form emotional bonds with their humans. A 2002 study showed that cats can develop separation anxiety, which pushes them to do things like relieve themselves in inappropriate places, such as on the bed, so they mix their scent with the scent of the person they miss. And this improves their mood.

And a 2015 study showed that cats understand the tone of the owner telling them about an unfamiliar object (back then it was a fan). Whether the voice is calm or worried. Cats whose owners showed anxiety were more likely to look toward the exit of the room where the unpleasant event was taking place and to communicate more with their people to calm themselves down.

Cats also demonstrated the ability to distinguish emotions in a 2020 study. They were shown images of angry or happy people while recording the sounds of laughter or an angry voice. Sometimes the image and sound matched, and sometimes not. Similarly, subjects were shown photos of other cats - angry and happy - and the sounds of purring and hissing. If the emotions in the photo and audio matched, the cats looked at the image longer, if not, they showed signs of stress. So, cats understand our emotions precisely

Sight, hearing, and smell - which is stronger in cats?

The famous Merck Veterinary Handbook states that cats have excellent eyesight. They can see perfectly in bright light and distinguish objects in the dark six times better than humans. In order to hunt at night, and cats are mostly nocturnal animals, their eyes have a special reflective layer called Tapetum lucidum. It is thanks to this layer that cat eyes "glow" in the dark. And sometimes they can give you the location of a furry animal that has hidden from you in a dark closet or under a sofa.

A 2014 study showed that cats can also see ultraviolet light beyond the range available to the human eye. However, cats have worse color vision than we do. There are three types of sensory cells in the human eye that are responsible for distinguishing colors, while cats have only two. But a human's field of vision is about 180 degrees, while a cat's is as large as 200.

Cats' sense of smell is rather mediocre, but their hearing is one of the best in the animal kingdom. They can distinguish sound frequencies in the range from 55 hertz to 78 kilohertz. For comparison, human hearing can only comprehend from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz.

Why we love cats and cats love us: the scientists' answer

How can cats help people?

We won't even mention the fact that one sweet and affectionate cat can easily rid your home of a whole flock of mice - this is something cats are famous for all over the world. But their health benefits, which cat lovers know so well, seem less obvious. However, a 2016 study published in the journal Pet Behavior Science showed that when you spend time with a cat, your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure decreases. This effect was observed both in owners of mustachioed purrs and in volunteers who did not have a cat at home. And in 2015, a publication in the Anthrozoös magazine convincingly proved that communication with cats significantly improves people's mood.

Interaction with a feline, such as playing or feeding, activates areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with complex tasks, empathy, and non-verbal communication. We like and are even flattered that such an independent animal prefers to spend time with us and even shows its affection by purring and caressing us. It improves our mood and relieves stress.

As OBOZREVATEL previously reported, cats have become real symbols of indomitable spirit during the current war, like the Persian cat who waited for rescuers on the seventh floor of a destroyed house in Borodyanka, or the red Maine Coon from Bucha who was kidnapped by Russians but escaped and returned to his beloved owners after months of wandering.

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