Do dogs and cats feel love? Any pet owner will tell you they do, but could we be exercising wishful thinking, projecting our own emotions onto our pets, or do they feel love like we do? In the spirit of Valentine’s Day — and our own desire to settle the question — we’ve compiled a list of anecdotal and scientific evidence to prove once and for all that pets do feel love.

1. Pets are loyal and form strong attachments to us.

cat sitting on a man's head

The loyal bond between dogs and people is well documented, and has been ongoing for thousands of years. Not only do dogs bond with their owners and prove themselves loyal companions on a daily basis, but they’re very forgiving, more so than many people. Cats have boundaries that are less forgiving. Nonetheless, cats can be fiercely loyal and form strong bonds with their humans. Some so strong that cats have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles through places they’ve never been to find their owners.

2. Pets love us even when we’re down.

child cuddling with a puppy

Many dogs and cats seem to know when their owners are sad or depressed, and react with affection or simply by spending more time nearby. Pets don’t expect us to be always-on or perfect. They accept us no matter how bad we feel. There are many cases of pets that have grown closer to a sick family member and stayed by that person’s side through their illness. Dogs and cats both make great service animals at hospitals and senior centers. They just want our love and companionship — they expect nothing in return.

3. Pets have the same “love hormones” we do.

woman cuddling with cat

Both dogs and cats have been found to release the “love hormone” oxytocin when they interact with each other and with humans. Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University, and his team discovered the connection. Zak wrote in The Atlantic that the brain chemical oxytocin was first found to be released when a new mother interacted with her baby, but also in many casual — and especially intimate — human interactions, creating intense feelings of love. He believes the hormone creates feelings of love in dogs and cats, too.

4. Pets protect us when we’re in danger.

dog on guard duty

Our pets are always looking out for us. Dogs and cats have both been seen defending their owners from threats, big and small.Service dogs in particular consistently place the needs of their loved ones above their own. Dogs guard their families at home and will put themselves at risk to protect the ones they love. Cats have also been known to risk their lives for their owners. One kitty we know of fought off a poisonous snake and took the bite that was meant for her owner. Another helped save her entire family — and the family dog!

5. Pets give us unconditional love.

little girl cuddling with kitten

Maybe most of all, we know dogs and cats feel love from the unconditional love they give to us. No matter how messy your life gets, no matter how many mistakes you make or how often you make them, regardless of your looks, income, or social standing, your dog never judges you. He always thinks you are wonderful and loves you with all his heart.

No one knows for sure if your cat is judging you, but either way, cats give us plenty of love and affection — and not just when a meal is about to be served. Unless a cat has had a traumatic history with humans, she will seek out her owner for affection in the form of play, stroking, or perhaps a chat. And you know a serene and loving cat by her purr.

While we may never know what’s truly in the mind of an animal, we know how our dogs and cats act towards us, how they behave when we need them, and when they’re happy and content. We’re pretty sure the case is closed: dogs and cats really do feel love.