Cats vs. Dogs: Who loves us more?

February 19, 2016

After much speculation, a new study is saying it’s finally been proven: dogs officially love their owners more than cats. Based on research involving 10 cats and 10 dogs, along with their owners, neuroeconomist Dr. Paul Zak found that dogs produce more of the “love hormone” oxytocin after playing with owners compared with their feline counterparts.

As explained in a recent article, since the brain chemical oxytocin has been strongly implicated in bonding, and cats are generally more independent than dogs, Zak wanted to find out whether its levels differed in these animals after interactions with humans.

Zak therefore took saliva samples from all of the companions, both shortly before and after a playful stint with their owners. He then measured their oxytocin levels and on average found dog produced almost five times as much oxytocin than cats after frolicking with their human companions, with saliva levels rising by 57.2% and 12% from initial levels, respectively. In addition, only half of the cats actually demonstrated raised levels of oxytocin. While this doesn’t mean that dogs love us five times more than cats do, it does at least seem to make sense, the article states.

In general, cats are more solitary than dogs — wolves, from which dogs originate, are highly social animals that live and hunt in packs, whereas many cats go it alone. Oxytocin has been shown to facilitate social bonding in dogs, alongside others, and can boost dog bonding behavior towards humans and other dogs when administered externally. On the other hand, studies have suggested that cats don’t form secure attachments with their owners, while dogs depend on humans for safety.

However, Zak pointed out in the article there are obvious limitations with both the study and the conclusions. For instance, the study was conducted in a lab environment, which could have put cats at an immediate disadvantage. Cats are known for being highly territorial and home-loving animals, so it’s possible that they were stressed out and thus not really up for a head scratch or playtime.

In addition, it also raises an ongoing frustration in the field of science: over-simplification. Oxytocin has many nicknames — the cuddle chemical, happy hormone, love molecule, and yet these don’t nearly reflect the complexity of this substance. It’s suggested to be involved in an abundance of behaviors and physiological processes, from trust to lactation, so to reduce it down to one — love — isn’t overly scientific, the article explains.

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Category: Animal Safety, Genomics