Behaviour 2019
The Influence of Scent and Owner Presence on Cat Attachment Behaviors
Alexandra C. Behnke, Kristyn R. Vitale, Monique A.R. Udell. Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Domesticated cats frequently use their sense of smell to navigate their environment, convey social cues, and communicate with other individuals. In applied contexts, cat owners are often encouraged to leave items holding their scent with their cat in periods of absence with the aim of reducing stress. The purpose of this research was to evaluate if and how an owner’s scent reduces a cat’s anxiety while in an unfamiliar environment. A sample size of 42 adult cats (> 1 year old) underwent a five-stage secure base test that examined the cat’s behavior with the owner present, without the owner present, and with a scent object present. Behavioral measures were coded later from video and included anxiety-related and attachment behaviors. On average, cats displayed a lower frequency of stress-related behaviors when the owner was present, an effect not seen when alone with the scent object. The order in which cats were presented with the stimuli had an impact on the attachment behaviors displayed towards their owner. The results of this research will deepen our current understanding of feline olfactory and social cognition, including ways to reduce cat anxiety during owner separation.