For most of us, just the sight of a kitten is enough to make us melt. Their soft, fuzzy fur. Their big, guileless eyes. Their cute little paws. Sigh. And it’s not just kittens – to be fair, almost every baby animal can elicit a similar response, although not all species are as perfectly roly-poly as a kitten.
But what is it about kittens that makes us go weak in the knees? We can be having a terrible day, and spending a few minutes gazing at cute baby cat photos online can fill us with warm and fuzzy feelings.
It turns out that this cuteness response was all designed by nature. There is a happy little hormone in our bodies called oxytocin – indeed, this hormone is commonly known as the “love hormone”. It is the very same hormone that is released when we kiss, when we make babies, when we give birth to our babies, and when we hold and feed our babies. Oxytocin can also increase empathy towards others, reduce stress and relieve pain – it’s truly amazing!
So how does all of this apply to our love for kittens? Take a look at this adorable picture of a cutie-pie kitten. Notice that she has a head that is large for her body, eyes that are large for her head, and a roly-poly body with a chubby tummy. What does this remind you of? Along with most other baby mammals on the planet, this kitten subconsciously reminds us of a human baby. Humans are hardwired to think babies are cute and lovable, along with vulnerable and in need of our protection – this is all by design, of course, so that we will keep our babies safe and continue the human race. This same response to babies makes us want to pick this kitten up and snuggle!
And it’s not all about looks, either. Touch is a big part of the oxytocin response (remember the kissing and the baby-making?). When we pet an animal, this touch releases oxytocin in both the human and the animal. As you might have guessed, this hormonal love loop also works between humans and their babies – holding a baby close to our bodies promotes bonding. This is a big reason why there is a real love bond between us and our pets. (As I am writing this, I have a kitten sleeping on my chest – just like human babies, kittens crave close contact in order to feel secure.)
So now that we know that associating with kittens bathes our brains in amazing, feel-good, love-promoting, stress-relieving hormones, there is absolutely no need to make excuses for our kitten devotion. In fact, my assessment is that we should take every opportunity to spend time with them and watch cute kitten videos – it’s for our health!