In a PetMD blog post dated Oct. 17, 2013, Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, cites new research showing that quality time with pets directly impacts hormone levels in humans. Administered as Pitocin to facilitate the childbirth process, the hormone/neurotransmitter oxytocin plays a key role in forging an immediate mother/newborn bond. New research continues to reveal how oxytocin also forges interpersonal bonds from social interactions.
According to Dr. Coates, the molecule plays a key role in the bond that owners and their dogs have for each another. In one study, 55 owner-dog pairs underwent a series of experiments that investigated whether or not the length of time a dog gazed into his or her owner’s eyes affected the owner’s oxytocin levels. It most certainly did.
She paraphrases the research study report as follows:
The participants were divided into two groups according to the degree of their relationship with their dog and the duration of the dog’s gaze. The group of owners who received dog’s gazes over a longer duration had a better relationship with their dogs, and showed a higher concentration of urinary oxytocin than the group who received dog gazes of short duration. These results show that the level of oxytocin in humans may be related to attachment behavior.
A different study looked at whole range of physiological and biochemical parameters in owners and their dogs before and after a 30 minute session during which owners petted, talked to, and generally fawned all over their dogs. The results were pretty astounding. Concentrations of oxytocin, beta-endorphin, prolactin, beta-phenylethylamine, and dopamine increased in both dogs and people after just 30 minutes of positive interaction.
Dr. Coates commented on the study findings, "I find it fascinating that dogs and people have developed such a close, social relationship with each other that something as simple as looking into one another’s eyes can alter our biochemistry."
Clearly, sharing our lives with pets has profound benefits. What we give to our pets in time, effort and expense they give back with interest in unconditional love and emotional wellbeing. The next time your dog graces you with that adoring gaze (you know the one), take a moment to gaze back. You'll be glad you did.
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