Scientific evidence would have you believe that only human beings are capable of complex feelings that include love and hate. However, talk to any dog or cat owner and chances are they’ll say that they love their pets and receive equal love in return. Do you agree?
Distinctive areas of the brain light up on MRIs when humans are shown someone they love. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine saw the caudate area of the brain –which is involved in cravings — become very active when study participants were shown an image of their significant other. Another area that lit up was the ventral tegmental, which produces dopamine, a powerful neurotransmitter that affects pleasure and motivation. Does the same occur with pets? It is debatable.
Although dogs and cats rely on their human owners to provide much of their necessities, from food to water to a safe place to live, their motivation toward affection does not seem linked to security alone. Cats have been known to travel hundreds of miles to find a prior owner who moved. Or if the cat has run off, he can generally find his way back. Dogs, similarly, have been shown to mourn the loss of a loved one after he or she has died, sitting outside of the room whimpering. Both dogs and cats have been documented as taking the proverbial bullet for their owners, attempting to save them when owners are injured or attacked. Cats have even been known to lick away tears.
However, experts still debate whether or not pets can feel love. Researchers at Penn State have offered that dogs and cats probably don’t feel love in the same way that humans do. However, they’ve learned that by putting out cues that seem like love and affection to people, they stand to gain more — treats, food, pats on the back. Dogs and cats may “love”us based on the reward of their behaviors. If people no longer supplied rewards, the love would wane. One could say that it’s ironic that Pavlov was able to train his dog to salivate as a conditioned reflex to a bell. For it seems people have been conditioned to reward dogs and cats for the supposed “love” they are showing their owners.
Still, others have said there may be some basis to the concept that pets feel deep emotions. Jane Goodall’s research into primates gives evidence that animals actually do have emotions. “From a behavioral perspective, it only makes sense that animals would experience emotions,” she has noted. Goodall’s research suggests that social animals must be able to read other animals in their society and must be able to maintain social bonds, much in the way pets form a social bond with their humans.
The jury may continue to be out regarding whether puppy dog eyes or purring symbolizes love or our pet companions are just looking to secure their place in a comfortable environment. However, there is no harm done when pet owners lavish affection on their pets, especially if that companionship brings everyone involved joy.
Share with us – How does your pet show you his/her love?