We know that dogs are loyal companions that offer unconditional love and affection, but they also provide a host of health benefits. Over the last several years, there has been mounting scientific evidence that dogs can alter our physiology. Numerous studies have shown that dogs can lower blood pressure and help children overcome allergies.
So just how does Spot or Fido make us feel better? Recent research suggests that we experience a hormonal change when we interact with dogs that can help us cope with depression and some stress-disorders.
Scientifically speaking a chemical called oxytocin, or the love hormone, is produced and released by the pituitary gland when you pet your four-legged family members. The hormone promotes feelings of maternal care and bonding in mammals. Oxytocin also has a lot of health benefits including slowing heart rates and breathing, inhibiting the production of stress hormones, and lowering blood pressure.
Dogs can help their owners with long-term mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, especially if they are viewed as family members who offer emotional support. In fact, simply petting a dog can spike your levels of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is a natural antidepressant. So it’s no wonder that dogs are able to help people with autism and those suffering from PTSD and drug addiction.
Additionally, petting a pooch or two has also been shown to help lower cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol in small amounts can have healthy functions, but when it is present in high levels can interfere with your normal metabolism and immune systems. Spending quality time with your dog can reduce the levels of cortisol and in turn reduce your stress levels and provide a sense of calm and relaxation. Research has even shown that the company of a beloved pet can be more relaxing than the company of a family member or spouse!
Simply put, dogs help normalize our brain chemistry. The mix of physiological and psychological effects creates a pleasant feeling of calmness and love. How does your furbaby make you feel?