Cute Animal Stories and Physiology

cat nursing puppies

The link above is a very cutesy video, but it had me reaching for my textbook.

According to this video, the mother cat had recently lost her kindle (I love collective nouns) and was, quite naturally, profoundly depressed. This animal foster family took the cat in, and found the cat to be needy, sad and distressed. It was only after the introduction of a litter of puppies that had lost their mother (what is this, a Disney movie?) that the cat came around.

There is an endocrine gland (that means it makes hormones) in the middle of your brain called the pituitary gland, answering to your CNS by way of the hypothalamus, a bridge between the CNS and the endocrine system. The pituitary gland is often called the master gland, because it does a lot of stuff, probably gets paid more. One of the hormones it secretes is called oxytocin. In mammalian females, oxytocin plays a major role in commanding the body for pregnancy, birth, and nursing. However, in both genders, oxytocin, by the very nature of its primary function, also engenders feelings of attachment, belonging, and intimacy. This cat was flooded with oxytocin, was depressed, and needed attention. When the puppies were introduced, the oxytocin returned to its primary role, and the cat became a surrogate mother. At this time, the cat’s pituitary gland produced another hormone called prolactin, and enabled the animal to nurse the puppies.

I’m not trying to reduce the powerful emotions this cat felt, emotions that would also easily occur in a human being, by explaining it away in technical terms. I’m not trying to take the ‘awww’ out of it. Just two things:

1: It is profoundly interesting that external, emotional events have a direct, physiological impact on how your body functions. Your emotions are very real, can be very strong, and, if you need proof, take a look inside and see the physiological process. If someone tells you to suck it up, if someone shames you for mental illness, if someone tells you to stop feeling a certain way, then they are A) ignorant of how the body works, and B) an asshole. “It’s all in your head!” Well, of course. Everything is. But that’s ontology, for another time.

2: It’s also profoundly interesting that we’re looking at two completely different species here. That’s incredible. That speaks to the strength of the survival instinct, but that’s for another time.

Well, I’m procrastinating again. Gotta hit the books. Wash your hands!

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