Building the Bond Between Cats and People

New Media Mention: Kym Pokorny, Oregon’s Agricultural Progress, Summer 2016
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hatcatsShreve is a National Science Foundation graduate fellow pursuing a Ph.D. in animal sciences at Oregon State University. As part of Monique Udell’s Human-Animal Interaction lab, Shreve’s research focuses on cat behavior, cognition, and human-cat interactions. She’s had her share of people wonder why—or even if—cats can be trained and socialized……

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Kitten Training Classes? New Research Suggests Cat Stereotypes Are Just That

New Media Mention: Kyle Bunnell, The Corvallis Advocate June 22, 2016
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CA_June-23_cover2Kristyn Shreve, a graduate research fellow in OSU’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, or HAI Lab, loves cats. She plays with them, talks to them, and, most importantly, studies them. It turns out we know rather little about cat cognition. Science has a lot left to tell us about the best way to communicate with our feline friends, including whether or not they even consider us friends at all. And this is where the research at the HAI Lab comes in. A study they are currently conducting aims to shed some light on the ways in which cats and humans socialize with one another. Not only that, but as part of the study, free kitten-training classes are given, providing a foundation for communication between owners and cats. This is research that has not been done before, and, looking at the numbers, is sorely needed…….

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What We Understand about Cats and What They Understand about Us

New Media Mention: Felicity Muth, Scientific American March 30, 2016
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A big part of cats’ lives are spent around their human owners, yet scientists are just starting to understand what they think of us

 

stoshpetIn my last post I introduced the topic of cat cognition and what we broadly know about how these animals think. In this post I’m going to talk more specifically about what we understand about cats’ interactions with the animal they spend most time with: us….

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What’s Going On in Your Cat’s Head?

New Media Mention: Felicity Muth, Scientific American March 29, 2016
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Cats are often depicted as being less friendly, cooperative and caring than dogs, but what’s really going on in your cat’s head?

Spirit meet cameraUnsurprisingly, scientists use dogs in behavioural experiments a lot more often than cats. There are whole ‘canine cognition’ lab groups and conferences, which has led to a much greater understanding of our canine friends (see for example the blog ‘Dog Spies’). Cats are generally less cooperative and more nervous in social situations, meaning it’s difficult to use them in experiments. However, a recent paper in Animal Cognition by Shreve & Udell at Oregon State University reviewed what we do know about our (sometimes unfriendly) friends regarding how they think. I’m going to divide what we know about cat cognition into two main areas over two posts: firstly, what we know about cat cognition per se and secondly cat cognition that relates to their relationship with humans…..

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Socializing cats to aid adoptability

New Media Mention: Susan C. Kahler, JAVMA news April 15, 2016
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5b8c2-10747749_837752042921925_1954829831_nKristyn Vitale Shreve, a doctoral student and National Science Foundation graduate fellow in the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at Oregon State University, said that behavioral issues or cat-owner incompatibility account for at least 27 percent of the cats surrendered to shelters by owners.

Once in a shelter, dogs and cats spend more time in close proximity to an inattentive human than pets do, Vitale Shreve noted. She conducted a sociability test of 23 cats in a shelter, comprising an inattentive phase and an attentive phase of human interaction. The cats were aware of the attention or lack of attention. Meowing vocalization sometimes served as a cue that a cat was seeking human attention.

 “Cats are facultatively social and display various levels of social behavior, depending on their environment and upbringing,” she said.

She said that human interaction through touch and vocalization can increase a cat’s affiliative behaviors and activity levels, cause it to seek close proximity with humans, and potentially decrease stereotypic behaviors, cortisol levels, and stress behavior.

“Cats in shelters that were given up were more stressed than strays,” she said. “You might want to focus (your efforts) first in the shelter on them.”

Vitale Shreve suggested implementing a shelter interaction protocol and enrichment activities such as providing food balls filled with treats to increase adoption rates, reduce return rates, and reduce stress-related behaviors.