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Ask A Vet: Cats Vs. Dogs. The Real Story?

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There is an article circulating based on a BBC TV called Cats vs Dogs. It is making the news, but I am not sure that it is entirely fair to our feline friends.

The show contends that dogs love their owners 5 times more than cats based on a study done specifically for the show. In it, a neuroscientist named Dr. Paul Zak, tested saliva samples from dogs and cats before and after a 10 minute playtime with their owners. We know that oxytocin is the hormone most often associated with love and bonding.1 So Dr. Zek wanted to explore the effect of interaction with owners for both dogs and cats.

The dogs showed a 52.7% increase in the hormone oxytocin after the playtime and cats only showed 12% increase. Dr. Zek surmised that this finding indicates that dogs love us five times more than cats.

But I am not so sure. Firstly, cats are not dogs. Even though investigations have looked at different species and the levels of oxytocin, the role of oxytocin in bonding in canines has been evaluated in multiple studies 2,3. But are we sure that oxytocin is directly indicative of bonding for felines, who are not wired for group life?

Cats as a species seem to be very unique in their metabolism. They are exquisitely sensitive to certain compounds and require a feline specific thought process when treating them. Again, cats are not little dogs. Who is to say that a cat responds to oxytocin in exactly the same ways as a dog? Perhaps the smaller levels in a cat are all that is required for bonding.

I don’t think that this study is enough for us to say that cats are not as loving as dogs. I think that we can truly say and believe that cats love us differently than dogs, but I am not ready to write my cat off as completely unfeeling. I think that he loves me, just in his own way.

 

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  1. Commentary: Oxytocin-Gaze Positive Loop and the Coevolution of Human-Dog Bonds, Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 1845. Published online 2015 Nov 30. doi:  3389/fpsyg.2015.01845PMCID: PMC4663257  Sylvain Fiset and Vickie Plourde
  2. The role of oxytocin in relationships between dogs and humans and potential applications for the treatment of separation anxiety in dogs.Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2015 Nov 9. doi: 10.1111/brv.12235. [Epub ahead of print]  Thielke LE, Udell MA.
  3. Oxytocin promotes social bonding in dogs.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Jun 24;111(25):9085-90. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1322868111. Epub 2014 Jun 9. Romero T, Nagasawa M, Mogi K, Hasegawa T, Kikusui T

Written by Dr. Kathryn Primm
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