Is My Pet Jealous of My Phone?

It happens several times a week. I come home from work, ready to relax and settle on the couch, catching up on social media while I watch the news. However, too often, as soon as I sit down and pull out my cell phone, my dog comes up to me and bats it out of my hand. Sometimes, when I have my laptop on my lap, she wiggles her 11.5 pounds in between the computer and my torso. Or, if I've settled in with the iPad, she sits at the edge of my knees and barks until I pay attention to her.

Young woman with her dog using mobile phone at home.
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I won't deny that I find the behavior charming, but after the adorableness wears off, it becomes a bit irritating. But it got me wondering if the dog really understands what my cell phone is, and if she does, is she actually feeling jealous?

As it turns out, our obsession with our screens has had an effect on our pets, and the truth may make you reconsider how often you spend on your devices when your pets are home.

What does jealousy among our pets look like?

According to a 2014 study from the University of San Diego, dogs do show signs of jealousy when their humans are paying attention to other things. Scientists videotaped dogs' reactions while their humans ignore them and interact instead with a lifelike stuffed dog, a plastic jack-o-lantern, and a book. The dogs reacted to the objects by touching their human, touching the object, standing with their tail up, and trying to get between their owner and the object. Thus, the scientists concluded that dogs do seem to have an instinctual feeling of jealousy when a member of their pack (i.e. their human) pays too much attention to something that isn't them.

Cats also show signs of jealousy, when their owners threaten their bond. Cats might swat, growl, or hiss at the object or being that's causing them jealousy. Or, because cats love to be contrary, they might hide. Some cats even become destructive if they feel like they're not getting the attention they deserve. So it's best for both you and your pet if you can minimize any jealousy they might be feeling.

What do our pets think of all the screens in our life?

Cat with smart phone
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Our cats and dogs vaguely understand that something is happening on our screens, but they don't really understand exactly what's going on. Dogs' eyes can't quite process the information on a small screen. Cats have slightly better vision for seeing our screens, so sometimes they take an interest in what's going on on all our electronics. So it's unlikely that our pets understand why we're staring at our screens, but they still likely notice how much attention we give our phones.

Our obsession with smartphones might be making our pets sad.

cute puppy dog with smart phone
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Iain Booth, a veterinary surgeon and founder of VetUK, explained that our attachment to our smartphones might be damaging our relationships with our pets. Booth reminded us that our dogs rely on us for everything: food, shelter, exercise, and attention. So when we start to change those routines, or add phones into the mix, they may become sad or depressed. They don't quite know what to do when an important member of their pack pays so much attention to something that's not a part of their pack.

To make an analogy and hearken back to their origins – if one of the wolves in a pack just stared at a tree all day, even when the pack wants attention, wouldn't that seem strange? And after the strangeness wore off, we could imagine the other wolves becoming quite despondent at the loss of their companion. Because our pets don't understand our phones as anything other than a non-pack object, our obsession must look seem just as strange and disheartening.

A survey shows that our pets are taking their frustrations out on us by damaging our smartphones.

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A 2014 Pet Accidents Study showed that 28 million pet owners across the United States reported that their pet damaged an electronic device. Pets most commonly damaged cords (41%), smartphones (30%), and laptops (12%). And 25% of the respondents said that their pets damaged their devices while they were using them, which points strongly to jealousy as the inspiration for their destruction. The survey can't explicitly link our pets' jealousy to the damage of electronics, but since cell phones don't have many of the qualities of the usual pet toys, we suspect envy might be a major contributor.

While you're with your pet, it might be best to put down the phone.

Girl in Field With Kitten and Affectionate Puppy
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Though we can't determine the exact degree, it's clear that our pets are affected by our addiction to our smartphones. So, for our pets, and probably also for ourselves, it's a good idea to take a technology break, at least once in a while. Besides, there's no meme so amazing that it beats a pet's snuggles!