Most people would describe what they feel for their pet as “love,” but do our pets love us back? According to Dr. Nicholas Dodman, veterinarian and animal behaviorist, the answer is: yes.

Studies have shown that the presence or touch of a particular person reduces the heart rates of animals like dogs, cats and horses. That’s a sign of bonding, not just simple dependency. According to Dr. Dodman, a dog doesn’t love someone just because they’re in the same room. The personality of the pet and the owner have to be compatible. So a dominant or independent dog will become more attached to a person who’s a strong leader. However, a dog who’s been abused will probably feel more kinship with a kind and gentle owner. In some cases, even death isn’t enough to break a strong bond. A dog in Scotland sat by his master’s grave for years waiting for him to come back. He died waiting.

Dodman says cats have ways of showing their affection, too. When cats bring home a dead animal as a token of love, it’s a sign of attachment and bonding. A cat may also follow you around if you have a strong bond. Maybe not immediately, but they’ll saunter into the room after a few minutes. They might also become slightly depressed when you leave, and greet you enthusiastically when you return. Also, cats may learn to recognize the sound of your car pulling up or your footsteps. Of course, purring is an unmistakable sign of affection.

So what’s the take home lesson in all this? Well, our pets may not be able to talk to us or hold our hand, but it’s not a stretch to describe what they feel for us as love.