Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

Sponsored by the American Physiological Society

Women tend to “mother” their pet cats

Photo by Anthony Majanlahti (antmoose) via Wikimedia Commons

Often dubbed the “love hormone”, oxytocin is more than just responsible for pair bonding and feelings of trust. It is quite well-known by mothers who have induced labor (ever heard of Pitocin?) and is responsible for milk ejection during breastfeeding as well as maternal behaviors.   

Given the role of oxytocin in human social interactions and relationships, as well as studies showing its involvement in human attachments to pet dogs, researchers at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas wanted to know if the hormone was also responsible for human attachments to their cats. To study this, they collected saliva from 30 women of childbearing age who had either just read a book or had just interacted with their cat. They found that while salivary oxytocin concentrations were not significantly different after both activities, they did detect increases in oxytocin when the pet cat approached the owner as well as after the owner spent time petting the cat. These are similar oxytocin responses that occur with maternal-child interactions involving such activities as hugging, kissing, seeing a child, etc. Not surprisingly, oxytocin levels decreased when the cat was exhibiting anti-social behaviors, such as hissing.

These findings seem to show that women of childbearing age may “mother” their cats and think of them like offspring. But, what I want to know is whether the pet cats had similar changes in oxytocin when interacting with their owners. Or are they secretly trying to take over the world…one pet owner at a time? Lucky for us, Cat World Domination Day was June 24th and seems to have passed without incident. Or did it???


Magon N, Kalra S. The orgasmic history of oxytocin: Love, lust, and labor. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 15(Suppl 3): S156-S161, 2011.

Johnson EA, Portillo A, Bennett NE, Gray PB. Exploring women’s oxytocin responses to interactions with their pet cats. PeerJ. 9:e12393, 2021.

Categories: Feline, Intelligence and Neuroscience, Pets

Tags: , , , , , ,

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