It was love at first snuggle.
The tiny snowshoe Siamese kitten made himself comfortable on my shoulder and fell asleep. Of course, this was a page right out of the kitten playbook, and I fell for it in nanoseconds.
Magwitch and his littermates had been found abandoned at a construction site. So he was terrified of noises, sudden movements and strange people.
But he also had a big heart, and he wanted to be loved very badly. So, at some point, he decided that he might as well take a chance and love and trust the human with the comfy shoulder.
Seven years later, Magwitch still follows me around, chattering away in true Siamese style and hooking me with his paw whenever he feels he’s not getting enough attention.
But he also still refuses to deal with other people.
Actually, those other people don’t exist, as far as he’s concerned.
Why Some Cats Attach to Only One Person
What makes a cat keep to one human, all but ignoring everyone else?
Fearfulness is one possibility. Cats aren’t always big on trusting.
It’s part of their lingering wildness, and if they were strays, it’s sometimes part of their emotional baggage. Trusting one human being is difficult enough for many cats — trusting more than one is overwhelming.
But there are other possible explanations why some cats attach to only one person.
“It could be the individual’s manners, voice or simply how that how that person treats the cat,” says writer Tristan Andrews. “It may be that the individual is really gentle, or maybe a little more forceful — bringing out the best in the cat.”
Research on How Cats Attach to People
In 2007, researcher Claudia Edwards published a study about cats and attachment.1
Twenty-eight cats ages 1–7 were put through a feline version of the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST), named for Dr. Mary Ainsworth, PhD, a pioneer in human attachment theory.
The results showed that “cats can manifest attachment behaviors toward their owners” that were markedly similar to those of 1- or 2-year-old children:
- When the cats were with their people, they tended to be more playful and chatty.
- When with strangers, they were much less so and spent a lot of time hanging out by the door.
Anyone who has ever raised and/or worked with very young children has seen similar behavior when those children suddenly find themselves with unfamiliar adults. Their world doesn’t go back to normal until their parents reappear.
However, a 2015 study of cats by a different team found completely different results.
These new researchers determined, also using a feline-modified SST, that cats do “have a different relationship with their owner compared to a stranger” — but not any sort of childlike attachment toward a parent arising purely out of a need for safety or security.2
“We do not reject that cats may have social preferences, nor that some cats might form this type of attachment in certain circumstances, nor do we wish to imply that cats do not form some form of affectionate social relationship or bond with their owners,” the researchers carefully pointed out.
But, they said, the cat’s “relationship with the primary caregiver is not typically characterized by a preference for that individual based on them providing safety and security to the cat.”
Maybe It’s a Breed Thing
Another theory of why some cats attach to just one person: It comes down to breed.
That’s the theory, at least.
For example, a Siberian cat, according to one breeder, “often becomes attached to one family member … follow[ing] this person closely, if possible both in and outdoor. The cat accepts the whole family but when it comes to coziness or cuddling or the cat is ill, it chooses one person.”
Here are some of the cat breeds said to form special attachments with their humans:
Siamese, especially the females, often show up at the top of this list. Two of my Siamese females were very much one-person cats. Star in particular adored my son, Zeke. She came to us when he was 3 and took to him immediately.
Or It’s Simply “a State of Mind”
Cat behaviorist Pamela Merritt doesn’t buy into the breed theory, saying she has heard many stories about “seriously mixed breeds” who were cats attached to only one person.
“It’s not a breed trait so much as a state of mind that creates a One Person Cat,” she writes.
“These cats are happiest with a high degree of interaction and trust, and, once this is established, they will not be driven to seek that same level with another person.”
Life isn’t always easy for these cats. They can get jealous, mope and act out if they feel they’re not getting enough attention from their chosen person. And if something happens to that person, they can go into depression.
Merritt says that other family members should make a genuine attempt to connect with the Magwitches of the world. It gives them “a go-to person for times when their special person is not available.”
And that can only be a good thing.
- Edwards, Claudia. “Experimental Evaluation of Attachment Behaviors in Owned Cats.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research 2, no. 4 (July 2007): 119–125. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248577935_Experimental_evaluation_of_attachment_behaviors_in_owned_cats.
- Potter, Alice, and Daniel Simon Mills, BvSC, PhD, Dip ECAWBM. “Domestic Cats (Felis Silvestris Catus) Do Not Show Signs of Secure Attachment to Their Owners.” PLoS One. September 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4558093/.