Jun 12, 2018
Sometimes our pets behave in a way that suggests they are jealous. When we bend down to pet another dog, our pup may shove his way in front of us, knocking our hand away from his canine companion. A cat may excessively meow when you’re not paying attention to him, or a dog may annoyingly whine when another pet in the house gets a treat and he doesn’t. But are these actually jealous behaviors? Experts disagree.
“Pets don't experience jealousy in the true sense of the word,” says Katenna Jones, associate applied animal behaviorist and owner of Jones Animal Behavior in Warwick, Rhode Island. “What you are most likely seeing your pet exhibit is assertive, pushy, or rude behavior—e.g., the pet that bulldozes other pets out of the way—or social hierarchy, where a higher-ranking pet displaces another pet.”
On the other hand, a recent study found that dogs “exhibited significantly more jealous behaviors (e.g., snapping, getting between the owner and object, pushing/touching the object/owner) when their owners displayed affectionate behaviors towards what appeared to be another dog [an animatronic toy that moved and vocalized] as compared to nonsocial objects [a children's book and a plasticjack-o'-lantern].”
Suzanne Hetts, applied animal behaviorist and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates in Littleton, Colorado, concludes the jury is out on whether a pet feels the same type of jealous feelings that humans do. When a pet is determined to get your attention or his favorite toy back, “We have no idea whether a pet's emotional state is equivalent to what people label as jealousy,” she explains. “In most cases, this is better described as a competitive situation where the pet is competing with another individual—human, dog, cat, or otherwise—for something it wants.”
Regardless of what you call it, this type of behavior is often unwanted or unhealthy. Here are some jealous-like behaviors that pet parents should be on the lookout for:
According to experts, jealous-like behaviors in pets typically suggest boredom or a ploy for attention from their owners. “Sometimes, just like people, they can feel insecure,” Broderick explains. “They need individual attention, lots of cuddling, and activities to keep them busy and to keep them from being bored. Sometimes, our pets just want us and they don’t want to share us with another pet or person.”
In circumstances like this, here’s what could be going through your pet’s head: “I see you doing something. You look happy. I want that,” Jones says. A lack of resources (only one toy for multiple pets), social conflict, too small of a space, stress, lack of exercise, and geneticdispositioncan cause jealous-like behavior, she adds.
Magda advises pet owners to pay close attention if one pet or family member is receiving more attention than another, a new pet or family member has arrived in the household, or there is inequality in the amount of food or treats between pets.
Here are some of Magda’s tips for nipping this type of behavior in the bud, before it gets out of control:
Managing unwanted behaviors and keeping our pets mentally healthy are keys to avoiding unpleasant situations down the line, Broderick says. “As pet parents, we need to attend to their physical and emotional needs, just like we do for our human children,” he says. “Our pets just want to feel loved.”