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Pet Your Dog for a Daily Exchange of Oxytocin

Updated on May 7, 2015
Dogs do spread happiness through oxytocin.
Dogs do spread happiness through oxytocin. | Source

Oxytoxin and the Health Benefits of Owning a Dog

You may have never heard about oxytocin, but if you own a dog, most likely your oxytocin levels increase at the order of the day and they're playing an active role in keeping yourself and your family healthy. You may already know that dog ownership comes with a vast array of benefits, but now you can add oxytocin to that list. Let's recap a few of the many great health benefits a loving canine companion can bring to your life.

  • A Healthier Lifestyle

For starters, owning a dog helps you stay active. Everybody dreads cleaning a messy poop on their carpet or waking up and stepping on a lake of pee on a hardwood floor. A dog will ensure you take him out for his daily walkies so he can empty his bladder and bowels outside. And of course, because your dog has also exercise needs, he will help you meet your exercise needs too, whether you like it or not! Why hire a dog walker and have a stranger reap the health benefits of walking and keeping in top shape?

  • Better Heart Health

Owning a dog helps lower your blood pressure and keep your heart healthy. According to Web Md, in a study, 240 married couples were tested, and it was noted how pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates compared to the non-pet owning couples. In another study, children suffering from hypertension (high blood sugar) had lower pressure readings when they were petting their dog. People who suffered from a heart attack and owned a dog also recovered faster than those who didn't have a canine companion.

  • Better Moods

Owning a dog helps you live happier. For many good reasons, therapy dogs are used to visit hospitals; they're able to provide comfort and help cheer the day. Also, most likely no other animal or person loves you more unconditionally than a dog. Some therapists even recommend owning a dog to help lift the spirits of those who are depressed. Owning a dog also encourages people to get out more and engage in friendly conversations with others.

These are just a few of the many benefits. We should also honor those dogs who alert diabetics when they're about to have a sugar crisis and those seizure alert dogs who can anticipate a seizure so preventive measures can be taken. And if you're cold or suffer from chronic pain, you may appreciate the presence of a Xolo dog, a hairless breed of Mexico. Some of these dogs have been trained to wrap around the neck of people suffering from chronic neck pain!

And then, there are those oxytocin benefits that we will look at in the next paragraph...

The Power of Puppy Love

What is Oxytocin and How Does Your Dog Increase it?

If you never heard about oxytocin, you may be interested in learning exactly what it is and the benefits of it. Oxytocin is a hormone that works as a neuro-modulator of the brain. It's produced by the hypothalamus and is a hormone that plays a role in maternal bonding between a baby and a mother. Because of this, it's often referred to as the "love hormone. In a human mother, oxytocin plays a similar role.

According to a study conducted by Marraziti, oxytocin may also help humans in the healing process of wounds. Increased production of oxytocin followed a positive social interaction and caused faster wound healing, and possibly even reduced inflammation. Best of all, oxytocin elicits feelings of contentment, calmness and security. Two studies found that oxytocin given therapeutically decreased repetitive, compulsive behaviors.

So we know that oxytocin has many beneficial effects. But how do dogs increase our levels of this beneficial hormone? Interestingly, the benefits are not restricted to humans but are actually mutual so oxytocin increases in dogs too! Indeed, both owners' and dogs' oxytocin levels kick up to high gear after petting. According to Psychology Today, one of the first studies was conducted by Odendaal and Meintjes in 2003 and revealed that friendly contacts between humans and dogs released oxytocin in both species.The next study was conducted by M. Nagasawa et. al in 2008 and actually seemed to prove that all that was needed for these hormones to increase was for the dog to gaze at their owners. Another study conducted by Miller et al. in 2009 revealed that an oxytocin increase was observed in women upon greeting their dogs after coming home from work. Apparently, men in this study didn't enjoy the boost. Finally, an experiment by Dr. Uvnas-Moberg found that oxytocin increased in dogs about 3 minutes after the interaction, and in humans between 1 and 5 minutes. What causes this though? There are several hypothesis.

One is that caring for dogs is somewhat similar to a human-infant relationship. Neoteny, which is the retention of juvenile traits, such as big eyes, floppy ears and rounded foreheads, are all traits particularly accentuated in puppies and certain breeds that seem to cause all of those warm, fuzzy feelings that makes us want to hug and snuggle with these creatures. Scientists speculate that this cuteness factor may have played a role in the domestication process of dogs. Another hypothesis is that the strong bond between some dogs and humans creates fertile grounds for many positive social interactions, which cause the release of oxytocin.

So if you can't resist a puppy face or if you feel like your dog is a baby in furry clothes, you'll need to blame oxytocin. Regardless if you're affected by the cuteness factor or not, the bottom line is that owning dogs provides many benefits and the oxytocin exchange between dog and owner may be another good reason to own a dog.

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Dog helping children through test possibly due to increasing oxytocin levels

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