Scientists in California are asking for U.S. volunteers who live with cats to participate in a new research project. The study will survey owners about their pet’s behaviors and their knowledge of training methods. The team’s larger goal is to help cats—especially kittens—and humans better form healthy relationships with one another.
The work is being conducted by scientists from the Animal Welfare Epidemiology Lab at the University of California Davis. Last fall, the team recruited volunteers who owned exactly two cats to look at cat videos on the internet, as part of a project to study how well owners could read feline body language. They were especially interested in knowing whether owners could tell when cats were about to lash out at their furry roommates.
That project is still ongoing, but the lab is now beginning work on a new study. This time, they want to explore the socialization of cats viewed through the lens of their owners, as well as how much importance owners place on different aspects of cat socialization.
“Socialization here refers to the introduction of the animal to new people, places, and objects. This includes everything from kitten socialization programs (often called “kitten kindergarten”) to adult cats going on adventures with their owner,” project researcher Jennifer Link, a PhD student at the lab, told Gizmodo.
Link notes that newly adopted dogs and their owners routinely take part in dedicated socialization programs. But the same can’t be said for cat-owning families. Some reasons for this discrepancy might include that cat owners aren’t interested in these programs; that they can’t afford or access them; or that they simply don’t know they exist in the first place. Another key focus of the project will include trying to figure out why so few families attend kitten kindergarten.
“Once we’ve collected all the responses, we can share our findings with shelters, cat behaviorists, and the public, so as to hopefully make cat and kitten socialization more accessible to all those who want to get to it,” she said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, studying cats and their interactions with people isn’t as easy to do as it is with dogs. For instance, cats can get very anxious when outside of their normal environment, meaning that their behavior in a lab is likely to be substantially different from how they act usually. So surveys and citizen-science projects that can be conducted at home can bridge these gaps in research. And this study in particular may help scientists like Link find the best ways to improve cat-human bonds from an early age.
“In short: a well-socialized kitten becomes a well-adjusted adult, and we’d like to do whatever we can to ensure the creation of more well-socialized kittens. We hope that our study will be a good first step in that process,” Link said.
The team is looking to obtain about 2,500 survey responses in total, with an eye on having something to show to the public within the next 12 to 18 months. Eligible volunteers (current cat owners in the U.S.) can sign up here, and the survey should take no longer than 10 to 15 minutes to fill out.