Do felines prefer females?

We all know the joke of the old spinster whose only company are her cats. Of course, in today’s life, women take their lives and when/if they want to marry into their own hands, but this article is not about female emancipation. It’s about cats’ association with women. Do cats prefer women as their social partners?

Domestication

In the beginning, cats were probably attracted to man by the hordes of mice and rats that congregated around the stores of food that he had learned to build up in Ancient Egypt. As man became aware of the value that different animals could have for him, he began to domesticate them. The earliest known evidence of a co-operative relationship between human and cat has been dated to 4,500 years ago in Ancient Egypt. While dogs joined the men on hunting expeditions, cats were used around the house, where the women worked and lived. They had to keep the vermin under control in the fields and storage facilities. They later became tame and valued pets, and even objects of worship.

Affectionate creatures

Research has shown that women, in general, tend to bond more with cats than men do. A study published in the journal Behavioural Processes demolishes the stereotype of cats as cold, distant animals who want only food from their owners, and recognises that there is indeed a special bond between felines and females.

In 2007, the Gallup poll reported that although cat ownership has commonly been associated with women, women and men are actually equally likely to own a cat. A more recent survey of pet owners in the UK showed that more men prefer to have a cat as a pet, while women prefer dogs.

Known and experienced by many a cat lover, cats do express great affection towards humans if they are treated with consistent affection, especially from a very young age. It has been suggested that the human sometimes functions as a surrogate for the cat’s mother, and that adult house cats live their lives in a kind of extended kittenhood. Cats don’t just seek food, but real attachment to their owners.

Studies

The study that appeared in Behavioural Processes, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, scientifically examined the differences and dynamics in the kind of relationships and bonds formed between cats and women compared with those between cats and men. The researchers videotaped 120 hours of 40 pairs of humans and cats, and analysed interactions between them over lengthy four-part periods. The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other’s behaviours. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail movement, to signal desire for friendly contact. While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats, either male or female cats, more than men do. In another study, Karen McComb, a reader in behavioural ecology at the University of Sussex, used her daily interactions with her own cat for studies. She noticed that her male cat frequently sounds like a human infant. “Cats have about the right size of vocal folds to produce a cry that is similar to a baby’s,” she explains. “The meow, which can sound like a crying child, will be particularly effective with humans.” Both men and women seem to respond to this sound, with the mothering instinct particularly kicking in for women. Cats are extremely tactile animals and show affiliation by affectionately pushing against each other, cleaning faces and even snoozing together in one big pile. This need and compulsion to touch extends to their human social partners too: rubbing their faces and bodies against their owners, touching with the tail and fore paw, and kneading.

Moral of the story

While men got along with their cats, researchers saw more interactions between women and their animals, finding that cats were more likely to approach women, initiate contact and jump onto their laps. Women tend to vocalise to the cat more than men, and cats tend to approach women more often than men. Researchers believe that female owners simply have more intense relationships with their cats than men do. It could have to do with the cat-baby similarities. It may also just be that the ways women tend to express affiliation match better with those of cats. Hormones, genetics and other forms of hard wiring can come into play. So is all hope lost for men who love cats? Not quite. The bottom line is that if you can share affection, be it in the form of food, a place in your home or time for play, a cat would likely welcome your generosity and return the kindness shown to her.

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