The Emotional Lives of Companion Animals: Attachment and Subjective Claims by Owners of Cats and Dogs

Pim Martens*, Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers, Jessica K. Walker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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There is a growing body of scientific evidence supporting the existence of emotions in nonhuman animals. Companion-animal owners show a strong connection and attachment to their animals and readily assign emotions to them. In this paper we present information on how the attachment level of companion-animal owners correlates with their attribution of emotions to their companion cat or dog and their attribution of mirrored emotions. The results of an online questionnaire, completed by 1,023 Dutch-speaking cat and/ or dog owners (mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium), suggest that owners attribute several emotions to their pets. Respondents attributed all posited basic (anger, joy [ happiness], fear, surprise, disgust, and sadness) and complex (shame, jealousy, disappointment, and compassion) emotions to their companion animals, with a general trend toward basic emotions (with the exception of sadness) being more commonly attributed than complex emotions. All pet owners showed strong attachment to their companion animal(s), with the degree of attachment (of both cat and dog owners) varying significantly with education level and gender. Owners who ascribed human characteristics to their dog or cat also scored higher on the Pet Bonding Scale (PBS). Finally, owners who found it pleasant to pet their dog or cat had a higher average PBS score than those who did not like to do so. The relationship between owners' attributions of mirrored emotions and the degree of attachment to dogs was significant for all emotions, whilst for cats this relationship was significant only for joy, sadness, surprise, shame, disappointment, and compassion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-88
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • attachment
  • cats
  • companion animals
  • dogs
  • emotions


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