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Oxytocin and animals

published: 02-17-2014 Journal entry icon

As we’ve highlighted before, pets bring special benefits to their humans.  But is there a “logical” explanation for why the human-animal connection is so rewarding? Some scientists think that physical contact with your pet (especially a dog)—such as stroking or holding the animal on your lap—as well as having a relationship with that animal (that is, knowing and caring for the pet) are two components that make the owner-pet relationship therapeutic. It appears that these can lead to an increase in a “feel-good” hormone (oxytocin) in humans. (Check out last week’s post to learn about oxytocin and its impact on human relationships.) As little as five minutes of stroking a dog can result in a measurable increase in oxytocin levels. While it works for most people with any animal, the effect is stronger if the animal is one’s own pet. In fact, the closer the relationship (including affectionate behavior), the more oxytocin is released. Researchers caution, though, that this effect doesn’t work in those who don’t like animals, a finding that needs more research.