Oxytocin is a hormone most often associated with love and is released during childbirth and interactions between human parents and children. Researchers sought to better understand which hormones were involved in positive human-companion animal interactions and found that the love hormone is increased in both humans and dogs during friendly contact. If you love your dog like your own child, this oxytocin connection could be why! Cortisol, the “stress hormone”, was decreased in the human participants after the interaction, but increased in the dogs. Why do you think that is? Find out below!
As you may or may not have heard, oxytocin is the hormone of love. It’s released in your brain when interacting with children, loved ones, and even during child birth. Amazingly, researchers have also found that this bonding hormone is released during interactions with dogs, too! Even more interestingly, the hormone increase is present in both dogs and humans, indicating a mutual bonding experience during interactions.
In order to thoroughly understand human-canine relationships, it is important to use biological measures to better understand what is happening in the brain. Researchers can measure oxytocin and other hormones related to social interactions through blood samples, urine, and even saliva. In order to determine the hormones involved in human-companion dog contact, researchers used blood samples from both dogs and humans collected before and after a positive interaction. 18 human dog-loving participants engaged in social interactions with a dog (sometimes their own, sometimes not) including petting, scratching and talking to the dog.
After the interaction, oxytocin levels had significantly increased in both the human and canine participants. Unsurprisingly, human cortisol (the stress hormone) levels were decreased after the interaction in humans. But, cortisol was increased in the dogs. The researchers concluded that this was most likely because the dogs were in a new place, the lab! The dogs were likely stressed or aroused due to the new environment, increasing their cortisol levels.
Another important finding was that the interaction task significantly reduced blood pressure in both the humans and the dogs. With high blood pressure being the “silent killer”, spending quality time with your dog might not only make us happy or feel loved, but it could extend our lives by reducing our blood pressure! Make sure to spend a little time each day giving your pup some attention, it will make you both happier, and possibly allow you both to live longer lives :)
Where to find this article: Odendaal, J. S. J., Meintjes, R. A. (2003). Neurophysiological Correlates of Affiliative Behaviour between Humans and Dogs. The Veterinary Journal, 165, 296-301. doi:10.1016/S1090-0233(02)00237-X
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