By Rachel Garrod

We all love our furry friends. Nothing beats that heart-warming wiggy, waggy welcome when we get home, and those adorable eyes gazing gratefully at ours. But did you know there’s a real chemical attraction that helps to form this bond with our pets? There’s good evidence that playing with our pets releases the “love hormone” Oxytocin. It’s called the “love hormone” because it’s released during orgasm (for both men and women) and fosters feelings of bonding, contentedness and wellbeing. Oxytocin has many other health benefits such as improvement in mood and anxiety.

Miho Nagasawa and Takefumi Kikusui, both dog lovers themselves, decided to examine what happens to human levels of Oxytocin when we pet and play with our dogs. Their experiment involved 55 dog owners who brought their dogs to the lab. Urine samples, taken before and after a 30-minute play session, were tested for the presence of the hormone. In order to make comparisons a control group was asked to sit in a room with their dogs but avoid all eye contact. The researchers then divided the groups according to Oxytocin levels and reviewed the taped play sessions. They found that levels were around 20 per cent higher in owners who held the gaze of their dog on average for 2.5 minutes compared with those who held the gaze for 45 seconds or less.

To put this into context, that’s an increase in Oxytocin equivalent to that when a parent holds their child. What’s more, the owners who were told to avoid their dog’s gaze entirely showed a decrease in Oxytocin levels. So gazing into the eyes of our dog isn’t just an affectionate trait, it’s actually good for us! However, the benefits of bonding with your pet may include more than the release of Oxytocin. In a separate study owners were asked to stroke their dog for half an hour. Blood samples were taken before and after the petting session, and in this study the researchers observed an increase in not only Oxytocin but also a whole range of other hormones associated with feelings of euphoria, pain relief, bonding and the sensation of pleasure. And as if this weren’t enough, the owners’ blood pressure dropped too.

Now this is all pretty good news for us, as dog owners, but the really amazing part is that after the petting session not only did human levels of Oxytocin show an increase but they also did in the dogs. So you were right: your dog really does love you andit’s chemical!


Rachel Garrod PhD MSc is a physiotherapy lecturer and stop smoking counsellor

Tel. (+34) 652 281 122

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