Cover photo from Getty Images
It is really, truly the eternal struggle of the human race: dogs or cats. Those of us who are dog people swear up and down that dogs actually not only are more loyal, but they love their humans far more than cats do. Science now backs our claim. (YEA!) Well, at least on the love part.
American neuroscientist Dr. Paul Zak tested both cats and dogs to find out the truth. The U.K. Daily Mail has the scoop:
‘We have pretty good evidence that dogs actually love their humans,’ he says. ‘A couple of small-scale studies have shown that when owners interact with their dogs, the human and their dog appear to release oxytocin.
‘It’s one of the chemical measures of love in mammals. Humans produce the hormone in our brains when we care about someone. For example, when we see our spouse or child the levels in our bloodstream typically rise by 40-60 per cent.’
Dr. Zak took ten dogs and ten cats, showed them pictures of their humans and measured for the hormone. The results: the increase of the hormone in dogs was 57.2%, and in cats 12%.
‘From this sample it’s true to say that these dogs love their owners five times more than the cats do,’ says Dr Zak.
‘I was really surprised to discover that dogs produced such high levels of oxytocin.
‘It was also a nice surprise to discover that cats produce any at all. At least some of the time, cats seem to bond with their owners.
‘But the dog level of 57.2 per cent is a very powerful response. It shows these dogs really care about their owners. One dog — a sweet little lapdog — peaked at 500 per cent. It was totally in love with its owner.
So, to all the cat people out there, and the “no pets allowed” sorts who swear that dogs are incapable of unconditional love: neener neener neener. We dog people were right all along. And, Dr. Zak also crossed the data with gender and breed:
‘When it comes to how much dogs love us, there doesn’t seem to be any difference between breeds or sexes. But you can definitely strengthen that loving bond by petting and talking to your pet, particularly when he’s a puppy. And dogs definitely have favourites within the family. I am confident my own dog produces more oxytocin when I play with her than when anyone else does.’
The cute and charming tyrants that rule this writer’s house DEFINITELY have their favorites and also have different relationships with each member of the family. They get so excited when people walk through the front door, they’ve been known to knock lamps off of tables. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have their bad days, and reward teasing with a stink eye. They seem to save the most animosity for each other, though.
As for why this is the case, the truth may well boil down to how long dogs and cats have been domesticated. Dogs began as carefully selected wolves 25,000-35,000 years ago. They were bred for manageable personalities, among other traits. The hundreds of breeds and varieties we know today took generation after generation to develop. Research indicates that cats were not domesticated until about 10,000 years ago. What sort of selective breeding was done was not documented until recent generations, and it is not believed personality was a trait selected early on.
With such a small testing sample, this study is bound to be howled down, and will do nothing to stop the controversy as many cat owners swear up and down that their cats love them just as much – or more – than their dogs do. Fair enough. But when it comes to function, and trainability…no sense in stirring that pot. Let’s just say we dog people think our canines are the cat’s meow.
For more on training Fido and Fluffy, scent and sight differences, and why dogs have superior hearing and can sniff out cancer, visit the Daily Mail’s article.