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Background. Extensive research has evaluated the involvement of the neuropeptide oxytocin (OT) in human social behaviors, including parent-infant relationships. Studies have investigated OT’s connection to human attachment to nonhuman animals, with the majority of the literature focusing on domestic dogs (Canis lupis familiaris). Utilizing what is known about OT and its role in maternal-infant and human-dog bonding, we apply these frameworks to the study of human-domestic cat (Felis catus) interactions. Methods. We investigated changes in salivary OT levels in 30 U.S. women of reproductive age before and after two conditions: reading a book (control) and interacting with their pet cat. Participant and cat behavioral patterns during the cat interaction condition were also quantified to determine if differences in women’s OT concentrations were associated with specific human and cat behaviors. Results. Our results revealed no changes in women’s OT levels during the cat interaction, relative to the control condition, and pre-cat interaction OT levels. However, differences in women’s OT concentrations were correlated with some human-cat interactions (e.g., positively with petting cat and cat approach initiation, negatively with cat agonistic behavior) but not all observed behaviors (e.g., use of gentle or baby voice) coded during human-cat interactions. Discussion. This study is the first to explore women’s OT in response to interactions with their pet cat and has identified distinct human and cat behaviors that influence OT release in humans.


Animal Behavior; Anthrozoology; Domestic cats Felis catus; Human–animal interactions; Oxytocin


Women's Health

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