Cats’ expressions don’t get them adopted, but their behavior does

A cat who looks particularly grumpy or sweet doesn’t seem to be more likely to get adopted. But a cat who rubs up against toys or furniture is more likely to get a home.

Researchers wanted to see whether cat facial expressions had been subjected to selection during domestication. The study was published in the April 2017 issue of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. A study published in 2013 looked at whether the facial expressions of dogs had an influence over people and discovered that dogs who raised their brows more frequently were adopted more quickly than other dogs. The researchers concluded this was because the act made dogs look more like puppies and theorized the early domestication of dogs could have been influenced by facial expressions.

To conduct the study, researchers had to first enable cat facial expressions to be studied by creating a standardized measurement technique. They developed the CatFACS (Cat Facial Action Coding System), which identified fifteen individual facial movements, six miscellaneous movements, and seven ear movements in domestic cats.

They then looked at 106 cats ready for adoption in three different shelters in the United Kingdom. Each cat met with an experimenter to mimic a first encounter the cat would have with a potential adopter and the meeting as recorded. Each video was coded, looking at the cat’s proximity to the experimenter, body movement, tail movements, and face movements.

Then, the cats were tracked to see how quickly they were adopted. Cat facial movements were not related to the speed with which they were adopted, but their behaviors did have an effected. Cats who frequently rubbed their bodies on toys and furniture were adopted 30% more quickly than cats who didn’t.

The researchers concluded that the study’s finding suggest people are more influenced by prosocial behaviors than facial expressions. This could mean that domestication of cats was not related to facial expressions like the domestication of dogs probably was.

Photo credit: © iStock/Azaliya

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