Dogs are known for being man’s best friend. But talk to any cat lover, and they are guaranteed to tell you that their feline friends love them just as much as dogs—only in a different sort of way.
Finally we now have a concrete answer, according to science. Well, sort of.
Neuroscientist and professor at Claremont Graduate University, Dr. Paul Zak, performed a comprehensive study that focused on the brain chemistry of both cats and dogs, which will be featured in the BBC2 documentary, Cats v Dogs.
And the results of his study? Cat lovers, prepare yourselves, because Dr. Zak concluded that Fido loves his humans five times more than Whiskers does.
Like any pet owner, Zak knew that dogs and cats display their love very differently. So he studied the amount of oxytocin—or the “happiness hormone”—produced in both cats and dogs when they see their owners to determine how happy they are around their favorite people.
“Oxytocin is an attachment neurochemical or transmitter,” Zak told the Huffington Post. “It’s a chemical we produce in our brain when we care about someone. It’s what mammals release to bond with their young.”
He also explained that the average person produces 15–25 percent oxytocin during a pleasant interaction with a stranger, 25–50 percent during a conversation with a friend, and more than 50 percent when we’re with someone we truly love and care about.
Zak studied the brain chemistry of 10 dogs and 10 cats, and he found that the average amount of oxytocin produced for dogs was a whopping 57 percent, while the average cat produced only 12 percent (and half of the cats didn’t produce any at all).
While that’s obviously a disappointment to cat lovers, Zak added that the results aren’t quite as clear-cut as they may seem.
He explained that while most dogs are social animals and up for any new adventure, cats are extremely territorial and become stressed in new environments—like an unfamiliar laboratory surrounded by strangers.
So although the cats tested produced low levels of oxytocin, that could at least in part be because they were too stressed to even think about their humans, compared to the dogs who were more relaxed.
When asked whether the cats would have fared better if they were tested from the comfort of their own homes, Zak responded, “I think so. Or at least more cats would have produced more oxytocin.”
Regardless, the cats’ responses (or lack thereof) shouldn’t diminish the fact that dogs really, really love their people.
“[Y]our dog really loves you … a lot,” Zak said. “But what makes this so amazing is that the oxytocin they produced is for another species, not their own. The fact that this is cross species is really freakin’ crazy/cool. Their brains are telling them that they love us.”
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