Updated: Feb 19, 2020
In case you need an extra reason to spend time with your dog today… here are 7. You’re welcome!
1. Increased Oxytocin
Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the brain and released by the Pituitary Gland. One of its functions is to aid in bonding mothers and their newborn babies. It is released when mother and baby look into each other’s eyes.
Studies show there is a similar effect between humans and dogs, where the oxytocin levels in each are increased as they look into each other’s eyes. Oxytocin in the dog increases as it looks at the human, causing the human’s oxytocin to increase, which causes the dog’s oxytocin to increase… and this “positive loop” continues.
Brian Hare, an expert in canine cognition at Duke University, tells Science Magazine, “It’s an incredible finding that suggests that dogs have hijacked the human bonding system.”
2. Increased Prolactin
Most widely known for causing the production of milk in new mothers, prolactin has also been shown to regulate behavior, the immune system, metabolism, and reproductive systems.
Multiple studies have shown an increase in prolactin in humans as a result of petting dogs.
3. Increased Dopamine
Functioning as a hormone and a neurotransmitter, dopamine contributes to positive feelings and how we experience pleasure.
Studies show increased dopamine levels in humans and dogs during interaction. This experience is more typical when the interaction is between a human and dog that are familiar with one another.
4. Increased Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that, among other things, regulates feelings of well-being and happiness. Low serotonin levels are believed to be one cause of depression, so it is important to support the production in our bodies.
A University of Missouri study documented the change in serotonin levels in humans after petting dogs. The lead author of the study, Dr. Rebecca Johnson, says that “by showing how interacting with pets actually works, we can help animal-assisted therapy become a medically accepted intervention.”
5. Decreased Cortisol
Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone and is often referred to as the body’s natural alarm system.
A Washington State University study observed cortisol levels in students who were able to interact with dogs in a “Pet Your Stress Away” program. All students who interacted directly with these dogs had significant reduction in cortisol levels.
6. Decreased Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Many studies have linked owning a dog with healthier blood pressure levels and heart rates. Some research has shown that people who own dogs experience less change in blood pressure and heart rate during stressful situations.
One study even showed that blood pressure levels and heart rates reduce specifically while the physical act of petting a dog is taking place.
7. Boosted Immune System
Multiple studies have shown how owning a dog can have positive effects on the immune systems of young children. Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry are now comparing the effects of owning a dog to a probiotic.