How do you know if your pet loves you? Read their signs
Andrews McMeel Syndication
We love our pets, no doubt about it. In a survey of 16,000 dog and cat owners and 1,200 veterinarians across eight countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Japan and China), 95% of respondents said they consider pets part of the family, and 98% reported benefits from having a pet in their lives, including increased happiness, reduced loneliness and decreased stress, according to the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute and Zoetis.
But do pets love us back? We think the answer is yes, and so do some leading scientists. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns at Emory University and psychology professor Clive Wynne at Arizona State University are among the canine cognition researchers who have made dogs and their relationships with us the subject of their studies. Berns is the author of “How Dogs Love Us,” and Wynne of “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”
On the cat side: In separate studies, researchers at Oregon State University’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab, as well as scientists in Sweden, found that cats -- long thought of as aloof creatures -- seek out and often prefer social interactions with people.
Maybe our pets can’t speak the words “Happy Valentine’s Day,” but they show their love for us through their body language, vocalizations, brain response and actions. Here’s how you can tell when your pet is saying “I love you.”
-- They want to be close. Some lean against a leg, want to be in a lap, lie on top of your head or next to you, rest their heads on your feet or rub their faces against you. Cats are known for rubbing against their people to “mark” them, using a scent gland on their cheek. When your cat is winding through your legs or knocking foreheads with you -- known as bunting -- that’s what she’s doing. Dogs also have scent glands in the facial area and will nuzzle or rub their faces against their people.
-- They gaze at us. Staring is bad manners among dogs and cats, who consider it an aggressive act, but when interacting with us, dogs will return our looks of love and even seek out eye contact, showing us eyes that are normal size with a relaxed gaze. Cats give eye kisses by slowly blinking at us. Blink slowly back at your cat if you want to return the love.
-- They react happily to the sound of our voices. Don’t you love it when you come home and call your pet’s name, and he comes bounding joyfully to you? It’s even more special when he leaves a favorite toy or even a meal to come and greet you.
-- They love our scent. Your scent triggers activity in the reward center of your dog’s brain. The area known as the “caudate nucleus” is rich in dopamine receptors. For humans, it lights up when we anticipate eating Mom’s apple pie or reuniting with someone we love. Using positive reinforcement techniques, Berns trained dogs to enter an MRI machine willingly and unsedated. He then scanned their brains while presenting them with the odors of different people. Only one type of smell activated the caudate: that of someone they knew. In “How Dogs Love Us,” he writes: “Could it be longing? Or love? It seemed entirely possible. These patterns of brain activation looked strikingly similar to those observed when humans are shown pictures of people they love.”
Like yours, our own pets have special ways of showing their love. My dog Harper is a watcher, always looking to see what I’m going to do so she can trail after me. Mikkel’s cat Mylo flies to her side when she calls. “He jumps into my arms, crawls up my chest, then drools and purrs on my neck, making happy biscuits in my hair,” she says. Now that’s love!
Why dogs can’t
Q: Why is chocolate toxic to dogs, and what should I do if my dog eats some?
A: For those of us who love chocolate and know about the health benefits of dark chocolate, it’s hard to imagine that it could be toxic to our best friends.
Lots of dogs love the taste of chocolate, based on the number of them that I hear about who have broken into the Halloween stash, holiday gift boxes of the stuff, and Valentine’s Day sweets, but chocolate doesn’t love them back.
Chocolate contains both caffeine and a substance called theobromine. Both are plant alkaloids, mildly stimulating to humans, but toxic to dogs; they aren't able to process theobromine as efficiently as humans.
You may have heard of dogs who eat, say, a whole pan of brownies with no ill effects. That’s because chocolate's toxic effects -- known as chocolate toxicosis -- vary by size of the dog, amount and type of chocolate eaten, and individual sensitivity.
The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more toxic it is. That doesn't mean that milk chocolate is safe. One ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially lethal dose in dogs.
Dogs who ingest chocolate may start to vomit, have diarrhea or become unusually thirsty within six to 12 hours. Other signs include restlessness, a distended abdomen, seizures, a racing heart (tachycardia), and high or low blood pressure. Dogs who are highly sensitive to theobromine or who ingest cocoa powder or unsweetened baking chocolate can die from cardiac arrhythmias, hyperthermia or respiratory failure.
Another factor is the possible presence of xylitol, a sugar alcohol, in some chocolate products. It's highly toxic to dogs and may be of more concern than chocolate itself. When in doubt, call a pet poison hotline. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
bunnies from virus
-- We’ve reported previously about deadly rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus, which is circulating in the United States and affects pet and wild rabbits. University of Illinois veterinarian Krista Keller, an exotic animal specialist, recommends that pet rabbits be vaccinated now before possible outbreaks in the spring. The calicivirus can be carried to pet rabbits indoors on human shoes and clothing, as well as to bunnies grazing in yards where wild rabbits have been. It has a rapid incubation period of one to two days, causes hemorrhaging and is highly contagious. The vaccine, which is a two-shot series and requires annual boosters, is nearly 100% effective at protecting against infection. That’s good, because no treatment is available. Adult rabbits are at greatest risk; humans and other animals are not affected. For more information, see the House Rabbit Society website: rabbit.org/rhdv.
-- Belgian Malinois are commonly employed by police, the military, and search and rescue teams. Jobs they perform -- thanks to their keen sense of smell -- include sniffing out contraband, the coronavirus, and jaguar and cheetah scat.
-- Children on the autism spectrum had significantly improved social skills and behavior after a cat joined their family. That’s one of the findings of research fellow Gretchen Carlisle of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. She conducted a study that involved placing shelter cats with families whose children were on the autism spectrum. The cats were screened for social temperament, and families could choose the cat they preferred. Research team members monitored not only the children’s behavior but also the stress levels of the cats. “After the adoption of their cat, parents rated their children as having an improvement in empathy and fewer problem behaviors,” Carlisle said. “Parents also rated their children as having less separation anxiety.” -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.