It’s clear when we walk in the front door that our pets are happy to see us. Dogs, of course, run seemingly with a big smile on their faces, tails wagging, to greet us enthusiastically. Cats are more subtle, but usually they will at least make the trek to the door to let us know they’re aware we’ve returned.
The cuddle up with us on our couches and beds. They follow us around the house. They bark or meow in what seems to be an attempt at communication. They even form attachments to each other.
All the signs are there, but one can’t help wondering: do animals love?
Science, it seems, says yes, based on something as simple as monitoring hormones.
When humans feel “love,” the biological process is actually the body producing and releasing oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Studies have shown that humans release this hormone in many situations, from something as intense as caring for one’s offspring as simply having a pleasant interaction with a stranger. It’s what makes humans have good feelings for other humans and it helps humans form attachments, even short, slight attachments. The level of increase in oxytocin levels depends on the strength of a particular relationship and it can increase in increments of 0 to 100 percent.
Scientists took this research and applied it to cats and dogs – not only in their relationships with humans, but also with other animals and the research showed that dogs and cats also showed increases in oxytocin levels when they interacted with other creatures – human, feline, canine or otherwise – with which the animals had strong attachments.So when your dog runs to meet you at the door or your cat rubs her face against your legs as you stand in the kitchen, it isn’t just instinct or begging for food – it’s true love.