Why it is wrong to say that domestic cats are disloyal

An experiment was carried out some time ago at Kyoto University, which has been reported widely in online news media websites. I'll summarise it. Both cats and dogs observed a person either helping or not helping their owner. Dogs observed this difference in approach and were uncooperative to the person who would not help their owner whereas cats remained cooperative with these people. It appears that the cats were unable to evaluate third parties who might be hostile or friendly. Dogs, in contrast, were able to evaluate them and decide whether they should receive their friendship and cooperation or not. 

Cats are self-centered and disloyal. Discuss.
Cats are disloyal?? Photo: Brittney Gobble

The experiment clearly indicates the evolutionary nature of these different species. Dogs are utilitarian animals. They've been used over centuries to help and work with people. Domestic cats, in contrast, are companions to people. They do not really have a utilitarian role to play. And when an animal works with people they naturally learn how to evaluate them. It's part of the learning and cooperation process.

The cat's difference in approach has been perceived as being disloyal by the news media. To be clear: because a cat can't evaluate the motivations behind a person interacting with their owner they are being called disloyal. This is incorrect. Loyalty means providing support or allegiance to a person. Domestic cat support their owners all day long. Of course it depends upon the relationship but domestic cats wouldn't exist if they didn't support the people they lived with. This is not a question of a lack of loyalty but an inability by the cat to evaluate the motivations and intentions of potentially hostile people towards their human companion.

And this stems from the well-known fact that the domestic cat has the character of its wild ancestor the North African wildcat. This wildcat is essentially solitary. The domestic cat has learned over 10,000 years of domestication how to be quite sociable. But this inherently solitary attitude comes to the surface sometimes and apparently it affects a cat's evaluative abilities. I think we should confine the conclusion of this study to that particular point and not hype it up and generalise about loyalty and disloyalty.

I have written about this before and you can read my earlier article which I've approached from a different angle, if you want to, by clicking here.

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