We Know We Love Our Pets and They Make Us Happy, but Do They Actually Change Our Hormone Levels?
The answer seems to be a resounding YES
We know that playing with, talking with and petting our pets enhances our mood, now we may know why…. Short term interaction between dog and owner results in elevated oxytocin—the “feel good hormone” levels
Other neurotransmitters increased after interaction between humans and dogs as well as oxytocin, include beta-endorphin (numbs pain), prolactin (stimulates milk production after childbirth, eating and mating), beta-phenylethylamine (stimulant), and dopamine (motivation and pleasure) and cortisol hormones (stress hormones) decreased.
Similarly, we love to gaze into our pets’ eyes. What we might not have known was that there is a physiological reason for this—it also raises our oxytocin level (feel good hormone)(One night I was telling Pippi that I “lose myself in her eyes” but my partner responded that I never talk to her that way--that’s a whole other story).
Can we go so far as to say that we respond to our pets in the same way that we do our children? Not quite… A pilot study showed that when women were shown pictures of their children and dogs while undergoing an fMRI, different parts of their brains showed activity (visual processing of face and social cognition for dogs vs. reward/affiliation for their child). The mothers did however, rate the same level of excitement and pleasantness between their dogs and their children.
As you can see, there is a lot of work to do to uncover exactly why our pets make us feel as good as they do. I for one, know that my pups are doing something deep in my brain and that that makes a lot of difference in my life.