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Do Cats Really Prefer Women?

By Jennifer Viegas

Do Cats Really Prefer Women?

New research recently revealed that women, in general, tend to bond more with cats than men do. Many men, however, enjoy equally rewarding relationships with cats. What might explain our puzzling human-cat dynamics? Science is providing some answers.

Cats Make the Right Sounds
Karen McComb, a reader in behavioral ecology at the University of Sussex, is both a researcher and a cat owner, so her daily interactions with her own pet often become fodder for studies. McComb began to notice that her male cat frequently sounds like a human infant. “Cats have about the right size of vocal folds to produce a cry that is similar to a baby’s,” she explains. “The meow, which can sound like a crying child, will be particularly effective with humans.” Both men and women seem to respond to this sound, with the mothering instinct particularly kicking in for women.

Cats can also engage in what McComb calls “solicitation purring.” This sound combines purring with an embedded high-pitched cry, which creates a sound that’s nearly irresistible. “In the case of my cat, if he sees you stirring from sleep at all in the early morning, he will immediately switch into giving this solicitation purring and position himself next to your head so you get the full impact.”

Cats Have the Right Touch
Cats are extremely tactile animals. Even among themselves, they are forever showing affiliation by affectionately pushing against each other, cleaning faces and even snoozing together in one big pile. This need and compulsion to touch extends to their human social partners too.

Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna’s Konrad Lorenz Research Station and Department of Behavioral Biology and her team recently analyzed the social dynamics between 40 cats and their owners. In their study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, they documented these tactile interactions and more:

  • Cat rubs face against owner
  • Cat rubs body against owner
  • Cat rubs tail against, or curls tail around, owner
  • Cat bumps owner with forehead
  • Cat reaches out with forepaw and touches owner
  • Cat kneads owner

Women and Cats
Men and women frequently differ in their influence over the cat. “It is known that, when humans and cats first meet, women tend to speak/vocalize to the cat more than men, and cats tend to approach women more often than men,” says Wedl.

Once again, sound isn’t the only bonding factor. “In studies of cat-owning families, it has been found that women tend to interact with their cats more than men do,” says Wedl. “In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently and initiate contact more frequently, such as jumping up, than they do with male owners.” She additionally points out that other researchers believe “female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners.”

Men and Cats
Mysteries remain as to why cats and women so often seem to bond well. It could have to do with the cat-baby similarities. It may also just be that the ways women tend to express affiliation match better with those of cats. Hormones, genetics and other forms of hardwiring can come into play. Conversely, it’s said that dogs are man’s best friend.

Just as many women love their dogs, however, many men adore cats. Wedl and her colleagues studied numerous such relationships, and noted that petting, playing and other more active forms of engagement were not affected by whether or not the owner was male or female. Sometimes research data is even skewed toward women because, in some households, women tend to be at home more and can therefore spend more time with pets.

The bottom line is that if you can share affection -- be it in the form of food, a place in your home or time for play -- a cat would likely welcome your generosity and return the kindness in its own way.

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.


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Posted on September 10, 2011

Bill says: SaMocha ... you cat is trying to fix you up... Watch her choices... lol

Posted on September 17, 2011

Steve says: I also think that a woman's voice maybe more gentle and a bit higher than men's in general. This...I believe...is less intimidating to a cat. Cats do not like loud noises..prefer more gentle. easy going, perhaps high pitched voice. Just my observation from many years as a cat owner.

Posted on September 17, 2011

Steve says: Debby: Try a new litter box...your cat is either telling you that box is unacceptable or it has a problem...if it is a male cat..perhaps a urinary infection. Please take it to a vet, or consult with a vet...at least.

Posted on September 25, 2011

Calvin Jacobs says: In my experience cats tend to draw towards men then women.   My theory  is that with some cats and their social personality they give attention on there terms... Meaning if the owner wants to cuddle the cat tends to run away, but when the cat wants to cuddle and is being ignored the cats persistent in getting the attention that the owner isn't giving . In this case I have observed that because women tend to seek out a cat and bring thief attention more then men do, a cat will  cautiously approach a man that is not threatening and when feels comfortable will start the attention seeking maneuvers. I have noticed when a women walks in a room and starts the sweet kitty talk and forwardness towards a cat a cat tends to run. 

Posted on October 1, 2011

Natureboy says: This sounds like a very unscientific study done by a very bigoted woman.

Posted on November 21, 2011

Stephanie says: I think it all has to do with the cats personality. We have 4 cats, one is affectionately attatched to my husband, but will snuggles with me from time to time, while the other 2 females will follow me and sit in my lap 24/7 if I let them. Our male is very laid back and he , in my opinion is more affectionate toward me, only because I know exactly how to play with him and how he likes to be scratched.

Posted on March 25, 2012

Meowoof says: I never do any of that sweet kitty talk crap. It's ridiculously annoying. I just talk in my normal tone and cats come to me. Jeez, outdoor cats are so extroverted, its scary. Unlike my dog, who is much like the common cat. <_<

Posted on August 31, 2011

SuqMadiq says: SaMocha, are you suprised? So typical of females of all species! Just kidding!

Posted on June 1, 2011

DEBBY says: MY MOTHER IN LAWS CAT HAS STOPPED SCRATCHING IN THE LITTER BOX DOES ANYONE KNOW WHY

Posted on June 14, 2011

SaMocha says: My year old female loves me but prefers men. Whenever a man comes to me house(family , friends, repairmen etc) she is all over them.. She rubs, purrs and begs for attention. If women come to the house she totally ignores them. She is a hussy!! LOL

Posted on July 18, 2011

angel says: my cat had a male owner until I adopted her, and I know she prefers me. I spend more time with her, spoil her, give her lots of attention... she is the love of my life...my beautiful cat.

Posted on June 27, 2012

valarie says: My cat is such a Persian Doll face baby and loves to be treated like a sweetie. We go and walk outside some. But the concrete is too hot, so we go to the apartment dog park. My cat sits and walks on the grass with her harness and if a dog comes by I gently carry her away. She does not seem to know where we live. She will go to other doors like those are her home. She is a true domestic cat but likes going out some. I really love my cat!

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