Researchers find new ‘Cuddle Hormone’ in dogs

Posted by Priscilla. May 15th 2015.

We all know firsthand how pleasant it can be to spend time with animals. Owners of dogs in particular would vouch for the positive impact these creatures can have on our lives and the lives of children as they grow up.

a little girl cuddling a dog

While all of us have a sense of how strong the relationship between humans and animals can be, a group of scientists have set out to find a more specific explanation of why this might be.

The research in question has dealt with a particular hormone called ‘oxytocin’. This is a hormone which is present in humans and is traditionally believed to help mothers and children form strong bonds.

The hormone increases our ability to understand emotions and to consider social problems. But, what does this have to do with dogs?

Jessica Oliva, who is working on this research as part of a PhD in biological sciences, states that the hormone isn’t exclusively linked to humans:

“It has been postulated that the neuropeptide oxytocin is involved in humans-dog bonding.”

Levels of the hormone have been found to increase in both parties when humans and dogs spend even just a short period of time in one another’s company.

Following cues

Levels of oxytocin aren’t just relevant to patting and stroking, either. The hormone has been proved to have an active role in broader communication between humans and animals.

Oliva’s research saw 31 male and 31 female dogs administered with a combination of oxytocin and a placebo before being involved in a simple task. The dogs were tested on their ability to follow human cues to find a hidden treat.

The results of the study clearly showed an improved performance among the animals which had been administered with the hormone oxytocin. The conclusion which the scientists were looking for – confirmation that oxytocin is involved in dogs’ ability to use human cues.

Varying human levels

These studies have shown us not only that oxytocin is present in dogs but also that it’s important for the way in which humans view animals.

One study saw 100 human participants interact with dogs and cats for a period of 15 minutes, with blood samples being taken before and after this period of time. What the study showed was that levels of the hormone varied from one person to another.

While self-professed dog lovers saw their oxytocin levels increase during time spent with dogs, other people saw similar rises when in the company of cats.

Other people saw very little change at all, with one woman’s oxytocin levels rising by a mere 3%.

The cuddle hormone may be powerful for some but not – it seems – for all.

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