Saturday 9 October 2021

Do you believe scientists who say that smelly clothes don't reassure domestic cats?

This is a cross post - click this for the earlier post. Three scientists conducted an experiment as to whether the scented i.e. unwashed clothes, of domestic cat human caregiver's provided what they describe as a "secure base effect" (SBE) for their cats. To cut out the technical language, they wanted to see whether cats obtained reassurance from the unwashed clothes of their owners when their owners were absent; away from the home or perhaps asleep at night. Are smelly clothes a substitute for the presence of cat owners in terms of reassuring the domestic cat companions?

Do you believe scientists who say that smelly clothes don't reassure domestic cats?
Do you believe scientists who say that smelly clothes don't reassure domestic cats? Image in public domain.

I would expect that nearly all cat owners would say that they are at least a second-best substitute. Many cat owners place an unwashed item of clothing in a cat carrier to help to reassure their cat when they take them to a veterinarian for instance. Or they leave an item of clothing with their cat when they are boarded at a cattery when they are away on holiday.

And of course you see thousands of pictures on the Internet of cat sleeping on beds which contain copious amounts of body odour from their owner or domestic cats sleeping on their owner's favourite chair. Domestic cat sleep on the laps of owners because it is warmer and because it smells of their owner. The scientist will say that these are all anecdotal forms of evidence.

They wanted to address the issue through science and provide a scientific, objective answer as to whether smelly clothes reassure domestic cats. And they say that they DO NOT! This runs counter to conventional wisdom on cat caregiving.

ASSOCIATED PAGE: 14 links between stress in domestic cats and health implications

They conducted the experiment in what was a strange place for the cats. The cats would have been brought there in carriers. The room would have been quite stark I expect and there would have been other interfering aspects such as strange noises and strange people. I believe that when you place a domestic cat into an entirely new place which might be perceived as being hostile to them, you cannot expect them to behave normally. And if you can't expect them to behave normally you can't measure natural behaviours.

The researchers found that when cats were left in a room without their owner being present but with the benefit of smelly clothing from their owner they did not use those clothes to seek reassurance. When their owner was in the room with them their stress levels went down but the clothes did not reduce stress levels as judged through their behaviour when their owners left the room.

ASSOCIATED: Study says that cats are prone to separation anxiety in homes with two female residents

They concluded, firmly, that this was scientific evidence that cats don't obtain a "secure base effect" from scented objects belonging to their owner. I would argue, as mentioned, that the study is tainted by the abnormal behaviour of the cats brought about because they were out of their home range and placed in a strange place with can induce a mild sense of panic and anxiety which masks normal behaviours.

The use of scented clothes to help reduce a well-known condition called "separation anxiety" in felines appears to have been debunked by this study. You make up your own mind. I have made up mine as you can see. There is too much first hand experience to show that scented clothes are very important to domestic cat because the smell of objects is a vital part of their lives. The use their sense of smell as much as they use their eyesight. Humans rely far more heavily on their eyesight.

Note: The scientists are: Alexandra C.Behnkea, Kristyn R.Vital and Monique A.R.Udella who, I believe, conducted the study at Animal Health & Behavior, Distance Education, Unity College, 49 Farm View Drive, Suite 201, New Gloucester, ME 04260, USA.

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