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FAMS Can Sense Your Stress Before You Do?

From the moment you humans began domesticating us animals, you’ve been amazed by our feats of perception. Not always in a good way.

There are many stories about dogs and cats being aware of illness, disaster, or death, long before humans, making them the subject of many interesting stories.

More recently, as humans have become aware of the extraordinary sensitivity we have, especially, our noses, these apparently uncanny abilities are being praised and depended on. You trust us to discover drugs and explosives, seek out lost or trapped people, and even let you know whether the tinder date you’ve brought home is the kind of person you want in your life long term. Doing all this for you gets my tail thumping, I love it!

So with being so perceptive, does this mean your furry FAM can notice the sometimes very subtle cues that you are getting a little

emotional before you do? A little stressed maybe, a little anxious, a little depressed? Lots of research is going into this, and it looks like yes, we do. And we catch emotions from you, too!

There’s one job we’re getting more and more, and that’s as an emotional support, or therapy animal. This recognizes the immense impact your relationship with animals has on your well-being, self-esteem, and even heart rate. Some of us are trained to recognize the signs that you’re feeling a little off, such as your body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, and respond to that with more cuddles, gifts, and attention. But if you’ve ever lived with animals, you’ll probably have noticed that we seem to do this even without training. So what is going on?

Very recently, research was published that shows us dogs can very accurately recognize the smell of hormonal and chemical changes in your sweat when you feel stressed. It’s early days still, but it’s feasible that your different moods all have their own flavor. One thing we know for sure is that when your mood changes, your behavior changes. Perhaps you become less affectionate and energetic, or perhaps you become agitated and snappy. Whatever happens, this impacts on my mood as well. If you’re stressed, I’m likely to sense that and become stressed too, and so I do what I can to alleviate the emotional pressure.

Humans often need someone to let them know that their emotions are impacting the way they act - think about the last time you were hungry. So it can seem like we animals are reading your minds sometimes. But it’s not magic, it’s just a very rewarding aspect of sharing your life with an intelligent, social, and very perceptive creature like me!


Stacey Colino for National Geographic, 2021: Yes, Dogs Can ‘Catch’ Their Owner’s Emotions.

Matt Donnelly for The Conversation, 2022: Dogs Can Smell People’s Stress – New Study.

Joanna Que for Petcube, 2022: Can Cats Sense Sadness, Depression, and Anxiety in People?

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