Do you ever look at your pet and wonder if they are truly happy? How do you even know if what you do for them on a daily basis makes them content? Are they lacking anything?
Veterinarian Marie-Hélène Chiarisoli talks to French broadcaster Noëlle Bréham on radio station France Inter about recognizing happiness in pets.
How to recognize a happy animal
Marie-Hélène Chiarisoli says a happy animal will show its contentment through daily signs of recognition and attention directed towards its owner.
And we're not just talking about dogs and cats here. In fact, any pet parent can detect such signs of recognition. This includes emotional responses from horses, ferrets, rabbits, hamsters, or any other domesticated animal.
First and foremost, an animal in a position to live healthily and happily is one that eats well, sleeps well, and feels safe. Further to that, our pets require stimulation and the opportunity to work or have purpose in their daily lives. With the basic elements of food, rest and safety covered, it's important these additional needs are met. Doing this will likely result in the animal’s willingness to show or seek enjoyment in the form of play, or pleasing their family or owner.
It’s important to remember that animals are not cuddly toys, nor are they there to simply ‘be pretty’. Much like humans, all animals require a purpose to fulfil their needs. This aids in producing happier, more contented creatures.
The most concrete example of seeking purpose can be seen with dogs. It’s fair to say that most dogs like to make themselves as useful as possible in every way. Ultimately, they want to please. This provides them with a sense of purpose and in turn, a reward (e.g. affirmation, food, affection, etc). Other pets may show an instinctive desire to work by keeping their spaces organised, clean, or homely for themselves / the prospect of finding a mate and producing offspring.
Special features of dogs and cats
As the primary example of wanting to please, Marie-Hélène also says that a happy dog will also provide a natural dose of antidepressant. However, ‘discovering’ you in the morning as if you were the 8th natural wonder of the world will make them the happiest pooch alive. Taking a step further, spending quality time with you will increase their happiness levels 10-fold.
Cats are, well, different. A cats priority is directed more at their own well-being and less on yours. That said, most cats will show their contentment in a variety of ways. This could be with regular cuddles, forms of communication such a rubbing up against you or meowing, or demanding your attention (to fulfil their social needs). From time to time they may also go on the hunt for you. Is this for their enjoyment only?
It turns out that if your cat brings 'gifts' home to you, it can be seen as a sign of contentedness. Granted, you may not appreciate a dead animal inside the home, or even on the front doorstep. But it does, however, typically reflect the state of contentment your cat is feeling at that particular time of the day - a willingness to say "you’re family" or "here, I'm comfortable and wanting to help, so I brought you some food".
Of course, happiness is not demonstrated by the same behaviors from one animal to another. The important thing is to understand and observe each well, and learn their art of communicating with you. This means learning to understand their body language, sounds, attempts to gain your attention, and more.
Can you read your pet’s happiness? How do they show it?