closeup of pug in blankets

The Verdict Is In: Dog Cries Are the Most Evocative and Here's Why

A troubling aspect of owning any pet — dog, cat or otherwise — is when they’re feeling under the weather. For instance, dogs tend to whine and cry incessantly when their stomach is in knots. This can be excruciating for their owner especially when there’s not much to do but let it play out. Their cries are bothersome, not that it’s not warranted.

It’s not unlike what happens with crying babies. In public, most people feel uncomfortable when a baby is crying nearby.

Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things we all experience, and it’s not exactly fun. But it does present the idea that pet cries and whimpers are just as bad, if not worse, than a baby’s crying. Is that really true, though or is it all in our minds?

According to a new study, it turns out that cat and dog cries are just as evocative, but dogs cries are more so.

What Does the Study Reveal?

dog playing with owner

Christine Parsons, the associate professor overseeing the study, says, “Pet ownership is associated with greater sensitivity to pet distress sounds.”

The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the Interacting Minds Centre at the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark. Phew, what a mouthful! Findings were recently published in the Royal Society Open Science journal.

Parsons also goes on to say that this “may be part of the reason why we are willing to spend large amounts of time and resources on our domestic companions. It might also explain why we find interacting with pets so rewarding and are emotionally impacted by both positive communication signals, like purring and negative, like meows or whines.”

In other words, while the sounds are clearly a way for domestic animals to communicate with their owners, there’s a deeper emotional bond at play. When it comes to dogs, in particular, it turns out that they communicate “more effectively than cats” and their cries elicit a “greater emotional sensitivity.” It is so strong, that dog whines sounded “sadder” than cat meows regardless of ownership, meaning cat owners agreed they were worse.

It makes a lot of sense, however. As the relationship between an owner and a pet revolves heavily around these types of communication. A cry or whine is what a dog might use to let their owner know they’re hungry and want food, for instance.

As for why dog whines are worse, the researchers believe they are more evocative because of the relationships dogs tend to have with their owners. Cats are often “semi-domesticated” and retain their independence. They do as they wish in their homes, and rarely call upon their owners to do more than feed them. It’s not common to take a pet cat for walks, for example.

Dogs, on the other hand, rely significantly on their owners not just for food and bathroom breaks but also for pleasure. They often need more direct and dedicated care and even require some alone time with their owners to play or just to cuddle.

“This difference in animal dependence may explain why dog whines are rated as more negative than cat meows by all adults, including cat-owners. Dogs may simply have more effective distress signals than cats,” says Katherine Young, a lecturer at King’s College in London and senior author.

Much of this could be reasoned without a closer look, but it’s always good to see scientific evidence for why something is the way it is. Next time you hear a dog cry that’s cutting you to your core you know exactly why.