Can pets sense our emotions?On our darkest days when all we want to do is curl up on the couch and do nothing, those of us with pets know our companions seem to sense our emotions. Whether it’s curling up on our legs or placing a worried head in our laps, many owners wonder whether pets have a sixth sense when it comes to our feelings.

Animal perception is of great interest among animal behaviorists, researchers, and those who spend time with and care for pets. Let’s take a closer look at emotional intelligence in animals and explore the question of whether pets sense our emotions.

Animal Cognition

From studies that span a few centuries, we now know that many mammals feel a wide range of emotions. We’re also finding that animals can perceive these emotions in humans.

After observing a dozen cats with their owners, researchers Moriah Galvan and Jennifer Vonk of Oakland University noted that cats responded differently when their owners were smiling versus when they were frowning. In response, the cats were more likely to display positive behaviors, such as purring and rubbing up against their owners.

According to researchers from the universities of Lincoln and Sao Paulo, dogs can also recognize our emotions. After exposing 17 dogs to images of various facial expressions and tones that were either angry or happy, the animals were quickly able to recognize facial cues and the emotions behind them.

Interestingly, dogs were also able to learn and imitate facial expressions between other dogs, showing empathy and emotional response to their peers.

Why do Pets Sense our Emotions?

Much like small children, animals seem to have an uncanny way of reading our emotions, even when they’re nonverbal (and 90% of communication is nonverbal). But, why? In part, they do this as a way to protect themselves and to ensure their place in the pack (yes, even cats respond to hierarchies and social structures).

Many mammals, such as cats and dogs, have limbic systems (which govern emotions) that are similar to humans, as well as social structures and genetic similarities that mimic our own. Teaching your dog or cat new behaviors means they learn based on our verbal and behavioral cues. Therefore, they can recognize our emotions through nonverbal and verbal means.

A Deeper Bond

So, what does this mean for you and your fur companion? Essentially, it creates a greater opportunity for a stronger bond. In turn, this can result in the following:  

  • Improved health for both owner and pet
  • Development of a deeper relationship
  • Enhanced trust and more positive behaviors in your pet
  • More social opportunities and exercise
  • Improved mood and better ability to deal with stress
  • Increased empathy and patience

We firmly believe that pets sense our emotions, and we witness that each day here at Animal Medical Hospital.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment for your empathic little pal, please give us a call!