It’s Science: Cats Can Love

A scientist reports that cats release the hormone oxcytocin, called the "love hormone," in the company of people and pets they're close to.

The hormone released in people’s brains when they experience kindness or love is the same one released among cats and dogs interacting with fellow pets and people, according to a recent study.

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Researcher Paul Zak of Claremont Graduate Center in Claremont, Calif., studied the release of the hormone oxytocin in people, but the cat fan within the man made him to turn his attention to cats and dogs as well.

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Zak’s lab led previous studies that uncovered this chemical basis for compassion. His team conducted dozens of studies over the past decade that showed how the brain produces the chemical oxytocin when someone “treats us with kindness,” he wrote in The Atlantic this week, in an article titled “Dogs (and Cats) Can Love.”

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“Our studies showed that a large number of agreeable human interactions — from trusting a stranger to hold money for you, to dancing, to meditating in a group — causes the release of oxytocin and, at least temporarily, makes us tangibly care about others, even complete strangers,” Zak said in the story.

Zak, a confessed cat lover, found that 30% of the people who played with cats or dogs experienced a spike in oxytocin. What surprised him more, however, was the increased in oxytocin between animals. Some dogs a rise of as much as 48%.

“That animals of different species induce oxytocin release in each other suggests that they, like us, may be capable of love,” Zak concluded. “It is quite possible that Fido and Boots may feel the same way about you as you do about them. You can even call it love.”

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