Do you have a dog that loves to cuddle? Or, a cat that rubs you every time for asking snuggle? Have you seen viral videos showing animals enjoying warm hugs? They inevitably seem to enjoy affection. But why do they do so? What do they get from us? Social bonds? Food? Pleasure?
First, let us establish that all animals, especially vertebrates, possess a standard hormone system. It is a network of chemical communication, which regulates the circulatory system and crucial bodily functions. Moreover, it also oversees nearly all responses in emotions animals have the capacity of.
The basic hormone system is made up of groups of glands that release distinct ‘products’ into the bloodstream called hormones. That serves as signaling molecules brought by the circulatory system to various organic, regulating all physiological activities and behavior.
Animals release a hormone called pheromones, which is responsible for altering or influencing another animal’s behavior from the same specie. These are behavior-changing agents that elicit hormonal responses from the recipients, such as when cats rub the glands on their tails at their master’s legs or when dogs sniff each other’s behind. What happens that they provide affection and get affection in return. Thus, enabling animals displays positive reactions to affection in general.
As mentioned, animals evolved to have favorable subconscious responses from their own kinds. It provides the standard concept of affection, such as fondness to your own offspring, the care for the pack, or the regard for the other members of the herd. Affection is necessary between species as it benefits their social life, eliminating aggression inside the same specie since attacking each other would not be very beneficial. Moreover, it creates a balance between the pressure of cooperation and competition, permitting coexistence amid the two opposing instincts.
What human does is take advantage of this communication channel that is already present between dogs, cats, hens, or even reptiles. Physical contact of humans to animals results in the production of hormones linked to attachment and well-being. Thus, it activates it and boosts the animals’ need to pursue such contact. And, that what brings humans and animals together as social animals.
But, there are also other factors why animal enjoys human affection. Humans usually come with rewards. For instance, a dog master would provide immediate and constant food to the dog, compared to animals in the wild whose leader might not provide food supply except for their offsprings.
Not only humans serve as a stable food source. We also provide individual animals with shelter, grooming, and other essential things for their welfare. Through time, these animals appreciated the benefits of human affection in having better chances of survival. Thus, taking into account the process of evolution, these animals adapted and made them comfortable with human affection. They passed these onto their genes so that they would thrive better in the coming generations.
Animals tend to be close with humans they feel a sense of familiarity and security. They don’t see us as a threat, which is why they are able to receive and reciprocate affection. Then, there is also a concept of mutualism, where humans get something beneficial from their pets, and the pets also receive something good from humans.
Interspecies friendship (Wikipedia)
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