Study: Cats not bothered one bit if owners are treated badly

Researchers study how cats and dogs react to people who treat their owners coldly. (Provided by Osaka University Project Researcher Hitomi Chijiiwa)

A study in Japan suggests there may be something after all to the old stereotype that pet cats are generally aloof and indifferent toward their owners while dogs are fiercely protective and loyal.

Researchers from Kyoto University and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science wanted to understand how cats behave when their owners are being given a hard time. The same experiments using dogs seven years ago were referenced to gauge behavioral differences between the two species.

Team members concluded that cats do not seem to care how people treat their owners, while dogs keep their distance from those who give their owners the cold shoulder.

The findings seem to support the widely held view that cats have their own way and dogs are more demonstratively loyal to their owners, the researchers said.

In experiments on 36 pet cats, each feline faced three people sitting in a row: its owner, who held a lidded container, and one person on each side, known as person A and person B.

The owner showed the cat that he or she was struggling to open the lid before seeking assistance from person A. That individual had the option of helping the owner or refusing to do anything, while person B did nothing but sit on the other side of the owner. Persons A and B then offered food to the cat at the same time.

The team repeated the process four times for each cat by randomly switching roles and positions of A and B each time.

The results showed the cats tended to snuggle up equally to people who provided assistance to their owners as those who declined to help their owners or were just sitting by.

The findings suggest that cats do not mind taking food from those who were unkind to their owners.

The team’s experiments on dogs in 2015 found that canines were more likely to shun people who chose not to help their owners, indicating that they can interpret and assess people’s behavior.

“We tested two contrasting hypotheses: they (cats) react as dogs did or don’t care (about how their owners are treated) at all,” said Hitomi Chijiiwa, a member of the research team who is now a project researcher at Osaka University. “It turned out that they didn’t care one bit.”

She said dogs closely watched how their owners behaved during the experiments, while the team had trouble even keeping cats still.

“Cats and dogs differ in their ancestors’ habits and how they became our companions, which probably resulted in the gap in the level of empathy the two species show to others,” said Chijiiwa.

The team’s study into feline behavior was published in 2021 in the science journal Animal Behavior and Cognition: ( The findings on dogs were published in 2015 in the science journal Animal Behaviour: (


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