Is there anything more comforting than pulling your dog or cat into your lap when you’re in need of a good cry? They’re soft, warm, and so willing to cuddle while you pour out your feelings. But even though your sweet pup or cute kitty can help you feel better on a bad day, it might be worth considering how your emotions affect your furry friend. According to the results of a new study, your stress might affect your pet more than you’d think.
The study, which has been published in the scientific journal PLOS One, asked over 3,000 cat owners in the UK about both their behavior and their felines’ behavior, and apparently, the researchers were able to find a slight correlation between the two. Basically, the more stress that a cat owner claimed to be feeling, the more likely it was that their cat exhibited a "behavioural problem," "stress-related sickness behaviours," or "an ongoing medical condition," such as being overweight, the researchers wrote in their paper.
“Our personalities may be an important factor in relation to how we interact with and manage our cats, and this can have important consequences for their wellbeing," Lauren Finka, an author of the study and a post-doctoral research associate at Nottingham Trent University, told PsyPost. "Cats may not always find living as our pets easy, and it’s important that we are aware of how our behaviour may be impacting upon them, in both positive and negative ways."
For what it’s worth, the study authors noted in their paper that more research needs to be done on the connection between cat owners’ emotions and their felines’ well-being. In other words, if your cat is experiencing any health issues at the moment, it’s not necessarily due to your personality or behavior, so don’t feel like you need to jump to any hasty conclusions.
BTW, though, this isn’t just something that affects cats. When it comes to dogs, for instance, one of the things that sets them apart from many other animals is their ability to read your emotions. While this kind of connection can help to strengthen the bond that the two of you share, if you’re going through a rough time, your fur baby probably knows it. A study published in the natural sciences journal Scientific Reports found that dogs can be especially sensitive to hearing your emotions in your voice, to the extent that it can actually affect their heart rate. So while your pup may not be able to understand every word you say if you spill all of your concerns to her at the end of the day, there’s a chance she can understand the emotional resonance of what you’re saying, and apparently, it can quite literally go straight to her heart.
Fearful emotions, especially, can affect how your dog feels, too. A 2018 study published in the scientific journal Animal Cognition tested the assumption that dogs can tell whether or not people are in distress based on their sense of smell, and apparently, they kind of can. In the study, when a group of labradors and golden retrievers were exposed to chemosignals (aka human body odors) that were associated with fear, they began acting more stressed than they did when exposed to chemosignals associated with either neutral or happier emotions.
Of course, it’s not exactly reasonable to drastically change your own emotional experiences based only on the possibility that it could affect your pet’s well-being. But, at the very least, knowing that your pet is sometimes aware (to some extent) of what’s going on can help you remember to keep an eye on how your furry friend is behaving in general. If, for example, you had a terrible day at work and need some sad snuggle time with your pet once you get home, try to give her some extra love, just in case, so that you know she feels secure.
If you notice that your pup isn’t feeling quite as calm as usual, veterinarian Jessica Vogelsang recommends turning on a playlist designed specifically to reduce your pet’s anxiety. She told Health that a series of albums called Through a Dog’s Ear (also listed online as iCalmPet), which you can stream through Apple Music and Spotify, "is specifically composed to decrease a dog’s stress response." Plus, each classical music track will probably help to relax your mind as well.
On that note, taking care of your own stress through whatever self-care strategies work best for you is a great way to deal with the source of the problem. But on the occasional day when things are, you know, off (it happens), just make sure to give your cat or pup some extra love.
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