The special relationship between women and cats follows a study by Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. Picture: Max Pixel

London - Not every "cat lady" has wild hair and a cardigan matted with fur – but it appears that many women really do have a special relationship with their pets.

A study has found women are more likely than men to smile at and talk to their cats, believing that the animals respond to their emotions.

And when it comes to emotional "matching", where owners believe cats recognise if they are happy or smiling, this is reported most often by women with older pets.

The special relationship between women and cats follows a study by Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. It suggests that females consider their cats to be more caring because they are more empathetic themselves.

Led by Dr Péter Pongrácz, in the university’s Department of Ethology, the authors say: "Women were found in general to have more intense connections with their pets, their interactions involve more repeating, complex behavioural patterns and women are also more empathic with their pets."

Researchers gave 157 cat owners detailed questionnaires which revealed that women were more likely than men to initiate interactions with cats.

This included talking to their cat and explaining that certain foods or items were forbidden or that the cat would not like them. It also meant smiling at and greeting their pet or other cats. Women were more likely than men to see their cat as empathetic, believing the animal wanted their attention and responded to their emotions.

The study, reported in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, was set up to see if cats are viewed as the "perfect companion" in the same way as dogs, because of popular assumptions that cats are selfish and unfaithful.

Emotional matching between cats and owners was judged using questions on whether humans believed their cats tried to cheer them up, picked up their emotions, recognised if they were angry or reacted to their smiles. 

Owners and pets were also emotionally matched if people said cats started to play when they laughed or looked at objects when they pointed to them.