Is Your Pet Jealous?
You’ve seen it before: your cat’s instinct to lunge across your keyboard when it’s time to work, or your dog’s frantic dance when you finally settle down in front of a movie. As soon as your attention is divided, pets get jealous – or so it seems to us.
Animal behaviourists are still skeptical about whether domesticated animals fall prey to the same green-eyed monster that we do. “The balance of evidence is that they experience basic emotions, such as anger,” says Paul Morris, a professor of psychology at the University of Portsmouth in England. Studies of animal psychology have also determined that a wide range of species emote feelings like fear, surprise, joy and panic. But chances are, Morris says, pets have the capacity for more complex sentiments like jealousy.
Several studies, including one of Morris’s, have shown that non-primate animals are capable of secondary emotions, such as guilt, shame and pride. But, unlike using neurobiological or physiological responses to examine primary feelings, such as fear and anger, data on secondary emotions in animals relies on human accounts of what they thought the pets were experiencing; we don’t yet have a way to study them directly.
Whether we call it jealousy or not, pets do suffer angst and rely on their caregivers for more than food and shelter. “Understanding the emotional needs of a pet is important to the extent that we care about animal welfare, if for no other reason than we know that emotional distress causes physical illness,” says Morris. Stress leads to symptoms such as elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and altered gastrointestinal and reproductive function. We also know that for both humans and animals, stress can increase susceptibility to viral and bacterial infection.