Category Archives: emotions

Are Dogs and Cats Capable of Feeling Empathy?

By Linda Cole

I had a cat that always seemed to know when I was feeling sad. Toby wasn’t a feline that usually climbed into my lap, and would come to me only when she wanted attention. Even though she wasn’t the cuddly type, if she thought I needed a friend, that’s when she would curl up on my lap and purr as if she was trying to make me feel better. A new study conducted at the University of London says dogs can feel empathy towards us, but I believe cats also know when we need a paw to hold.

From the study, scientists concluded that dogs are more apt to go up to someone who is crying and react to them in a submissive way. The researchers wanted to see if dogs would show empathy to either their owner or a stranger if the dogs thought they were upset. They tested 18 dogs in their homes, where the dogs were relaxed and comfortable.

A researcher sat with a dog’s owner and they took turns humming, talking, and pretending to cry. The idea was to see if the dogs would respond just to their “crying” owner or if they would also react to a stranger. The study found 15 of the 18 dogs approached the sad person regardless of whether they were the dog’s owner or not. Only six responded to humming.

Researchers concluded it’s possible the dogs were expressing an emotional behavior and not just approaching out of curiosity. When the dogs reacted to the crying, none of them paid any attention to the one that wasn’t crying. When it came to showing a submissive behavior, 13 of the 15 dogs that went to the sad person did so with their tail tucked between their legs and with their head bowed, which researchers saw as showing empathy.

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Exploring the Emotional Attachment to your Pet

By Langley Cornwell

There is no relationship that equals the attachment we have to our pets. I’m not saying the attachment is better or worse than the attachment we have with humans; I’m just saying we form a bond with the animals in our lives that cannot be duplicated with another human. I can wax on and on about the strength of the connection I feel with my pets, as I’m sure you can too. But have you ever really analyzed the emotional attachment you have with them?

According to a study compiled from the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey, 33% of U.S. householders own at least one cat, and 39% own at least one dog. In truth, I thought the numbers would be higher. Even so, most everyone has lived with a pet at some point in their lives and during that time, they’ve certainly formed some type of attachment with the pet.

An article in Psychology Today looks at ‘attachment theory’ and applies that concept to humans and their pets. They say that pets are the perfect object of a human’s attachment because they are affectionate and easily accessible to anyone. As I understand it, there are several types of attachment styles: secure attachment, ambivalent attachment and avoidant attachment. In human-to-human interaction, attachment theory postulates that people adopt a style of relating to the important people in their lives based on their relationship with their primary caregiver when they were a child. What’s interesting is this concept of attachment extends to our pets.

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Are Pets Sentient Beings?

By Linda Cole

The general meaning for sentient is “to perceive or feel,” to be aware or have physical sensations. A sentient being is self aware, and some people believe this only applies to humans. We know pets are capable of feeling pain and can suffer, but just how aware are they of their surroundings and of the people they share their life with? There are those who say that pets can’t be sentient beings because they have no perception of death, but I’m not so sure that’s true. I’ve had enough experience with pets over the years to believe they know exactly what’s going on when their time has come. I do think pets are sentient beings and have an awareness we don’t fully understand.

I think my pets know me better than some of my friends. They are very much aware of my moods. They know if I’m angry or in a good mood, but more importantly, they know when I’m sad. And like a good friend who knows a hug can make a difference, pets give us their own special touch to let us know they understand and are there if we need them. This alone tells me they are sentient and are aware of what’s going on around them.

We domesticated pets centuries ago because we discovered that if we worked together, it benefited both of us. A dog or cat’s instinct and senses will surpass our gut feeling every time. When it comes to the natural world, dogs and cats know exactly what’s going on long before we do. My dogs know before I open the door to their pen if there’s a wild animal in the pen and exactly where it is. If a possum or coon was in the pen but left hours ago, the dogs still know that the animal had crossed through their territory. A pet’s instinct can help them find their way back home, know if a storm is coming and instinct tells them when they need to protect their family from an intruder.

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Do Our Pets Love Us?

Photo by Noël Zia Lee

By Julia Williams

Amazingly, there are people in this world who still believe animals are incapable of having or showing emotions. Among the doubters are scientists, non-pet people, and those who have pets but view them more as a fun accessory rather than sentient beings. It can be hard for people who’ve formed strong bonds with animals to comprehend this way of thinking, because our experiences tell a different story.

Part of the problem could be that there is no concrete way to measure love, no real “proof” of this emotion that’s one of the strongest human motivators. We can clearly see (and to an extent measure) other emotions, such as fear and anger. Love is impossible to see with the naked eye, unless you take into account the many ways we can “show” others that we love them.

Humans can say “I Love You” out loud to others, but we also express love by our actions. This might be a gentle caress of a lover’s cheek, a kiss on a child’s skinned knee, or lending a helping hand to a friend in need. Our pets can tell us they love us in nonverbal ways too. When I go to bed, Belle comes and nestles under my chin, so very close to my heart. One might say, “Well, she’s just trying to stay warm.” But she does this year round, even on hot summer nights when the room has yet to cool. 

My lap cat Mickey’s customary way to say he loves me is by giving me a little lick on my nose every so often. Rocky shows his love by giving me kitty head-butts – when I reach down to pet him, he moves his head up to meet my hand halfway. Belle also gives me kitty head-butts on my face when I’m brushing her. Does she know it pleases me greatly? Hard to say, but when I ask her for them, she nearly always complies.

When people love us, they want to be near us, and our pets are no different. I smile whenever I think about the night I was ill and couldn’t fall asleep with three cats on the bed. I would put them on the floor hoping they’d go find another place to sleep but they’d come right back up. Eventually I grabbed my pillow and a blanket, and moved to the couch to get away from them. In less than five minutes all three cats were lying next to me on the couch.

Animals also show love for humans by what they do after becoming separated from their families. Cats and dogs have traveled thousands of miles to reunite with those they love. If they were simply interested in getting fed, why not just sit down on the doorstep of the nearest house? And what of legendary dogs like Hachiko and Greyfriar’s Bobby, who showed their love and devotion long after their owners had died? Hachiko waited for his companion at the train station every night for nine years, and Greyfriar’s Bobby sat by his master’s grave for fourteen years. If that’s not love, what is it?

You can see love quite clearly in a person’s eyes when you look at them, and you can see it in your pet’s eyes too. All you have to do is look for it, and believe that what you see is real. Because it is – of this I have no doubt. I do not need to hear those three little words to know that my cats love me. Far better to see it is their eyes and in their actions, which as we all know, speak infinitely louder.

Anyone who needs to ponder the question “Do our pets love us?” for longer than a minute or two, has sadly not experienced what I see as one of life’s great joys. To love and be loved by a pet is a blessing. Tell me, how does your pet show their love for you?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Do Pets Forget About Us Over Time?

By Linda Cole

Sometimes, because of situations beyond our control, we have to find a pet a new home. An illness or change in jobs can force a loving owner to have to give their pet away. We develop such a close bond with our pets, we never forget them. But do pets forget about us over time? There’s no shortage of stories recounting the adventures of pets who traveled hundreds of miles to find their family. When a close bond has been broken and pets have to form a new one with a new family, are we still in their mind? Do they forget about us or do they retain some memory of their old life?

My mom fought a lifelong battle with rheumatoid arthritis, and was in and out of the hospital for as long as I can remember, undergoing numerous surgeries to correct the damage caused by her disease. Complications from her last surgery kept her in the hospital far longer than expected. I was taking care of her pets at my house. As their extended stay turned into months, one of her dogs, Ben, began to mope around the house. Mom passed away in the hospital and I started the chore of bringing her belongings to my house. Ben perked up when he smelled familiar scents, and he burrowed under her bedding I had brought over to wash. He ran from room to room as if he were looking for something, and I always wondered if it was simply the smells he remembered or if he was looking for my mom. I do believe he remembered his life with her when he smelled familiar scents from his home.

We know a lot about dogs and cats, but whether pets forget about us when they go to a new home or become lost is still a mystery. But there are amazing examples of how a cat or dog walked hundreds of miles to get back home when they were lost, given away or relocated to a temporary home. A cat walked 1,000 miles through the Australian outback to return to his home after he was taken to stay temporarily with a family member while his owners were overseas. What’s truly remarkable is how he knew which way to go, and that he survived in a region where many people have trouble surviving. It took him a year to cover his 1,000 mile trek home!

A well known example of a dog who refused to leave his master’s side is Greyfriar’s Bobby, a Skye terrier who became a fixture on his owner’s grave for 14 years. Even though people in the community tried to adopt Bobby, he always ran away and returned to the cemetery.

Some pets seem to be more tuned into their owners than other pets. We know some dogs have the mental capacity of three year olds. Cats are much smarter than they’re given credit for, and some dogs and cats do exhibit problem solving abilities. We can remember significant things that happened when we were three. So why should it surprise us if some pets can remember?

If pets do forget about us over time, then how do we explain the ones who crossed rivers and mountains to return to their homes? Some have even left their old home to find their owner who moved to a new location that was unfamiliar to the pet and yet, they were able to find them.

No one knows how pets are able to do this. It really is amazing how some pets are so connected with their owners that they will go in search of them. Some accounts of pets returning to their old home could be due to the pet wanting to be in familiar and comfortable territory. But that wouldn’t explain why a pet would pull up roots, leaving their old home to go in search of an owner who moved hundreds of miles away or one who passed away.

Pets instinctively hide pain or injuries so they don’t appear weak. Is it possible they’re good at hiding their feelings as well? Love is a hard emotion to define when it comes to our pets. We love them, but do they love us in return? I think they do. Do pets forget about us over time? It probably depends on the pet. Some are willing to do whatever it takes to be with the ones they feel comfortable and safe with. Love, after all, is a comfortable and safe feeling. Maybe it’s that simple for some pets – it’s a familiar bond with their human that remains no matter where we are.

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

Do Our Emotions Affect Our Pets?

By Julia Williams

I recently saw a TV commercial that featured a depressed man whose dog sat there looking very sad because his owner was not giving him any attention. An internet search revealed it was part of the “Depression Hurts” campaign for the anti-depressant Cymbalta. This ad asks, “Who does depression hurt? Everyone.” Apparently, this includes our pets. Delving further on Google, I found this interesting post on Twitter: “Is it just me, or does the Cymbalta commercial kind of guilt you into taking depression meds so your dog won’t be sad for you anymore?”

This got me to thinking about human emotions, and pondering whether we, as pet owners, pass our moods and feelings on to our pets. Could a depressed owner create a depressed dog? Could the pet of a stressed out, anxious, angry, manic or overly fearful owner begin to feel the same way? In contrast, would the pet of a cheerful, optimistic, happy-go-lucky human be just like them?

I suppose one first has to ask, do pets have emotions? Some people, especially scientific types and those who are not “pet people,” say no. They believe emotions exist only in humans. However, most pet owners tend to disagree, because they see proof that animals have emotions every day. Responsible pet owners who spend quality time with their animal companions, can tell what kind of mood they are in by reading their body language and facial expressions. We know whether our pets are eager or fearful, happy or sad, mad or content. What are those then, if not emotions?

Every pet owner likely has no shortage of anecdotal evidence of their dog or cat picking up on their emotional state. We see firsthand just how sensitive animals are to our moods, and we see them react accordingly. When I am sad and crying, my cats all crowd around me. They head-butt my hands and face, try other things to get my attention, and stick to me like glue if I am in bed. It’s as if they are saying, “We know you are hurting, how can we make it better?”

I also know that when I am in high spirits, my cats seem happier too. Rocky will sometimes meet me at the door when I come home. After I pick him up, hug him exuberantly and tell him how glad I am to see him, he then prances around the kitchen like he’s king of the castle. Dogs are often more aggressive to people who fear them. Much like children will do when their parents fight, dogs and cats slink away to hide or sulk when their owners are arguing.

Nonetheless, it can be hard to convince science-minded individuals that animals have emotions, primarily because it’s nearly impossible to measure feelings. While it may be crystal clear to a pet owner that their dog or cat has as a full spectrum of emotions, science can’t quantify them – yet. As such, it’s easy to discount the role that emotions play in pets.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems silly to believe that the ability to sense mood occurred for the first and only time in the human animal. Yet even if we believe that animals have emotions and can sense our moods, does that mean we automatically transfer our feelings to our pets? If a person is constantly agitated or angry, I am positive this would negatively affect their pet’s emotional state. But is the pet taking on those emotions, or are they merely reacting to them? What do you think?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.