Do you ever wonder why humans have such strong connections with other species, especially dogs? As a society, we tend to think there is something wrong with the “crazy cat lady” or “crazy dog person” who seems to prefer the companionship of other species over their own. But is it so crazy?
Meg Daley Olmert explores our connection with animals in her book Made for Each Other. Olmert explores the neurochemical basis for our strong connection to other species, more specifically the effects of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is most commonly known as the hormone produced between mother and child during childbirth, but it is produced in many other relationships including those between humans and animals. Olmert asserts that our well-being as a species depends upon the oxytocin produced in our relationship with animals.
Olmert asserts that our disconnect from animals in society today has caused us to be oxytocin-deprived which has led to significant problems such as the significant rise in depression. She points to a study that showed those suffering from major depression has significantly lower levels of oxytocin in their systems.
Various studies have shown that living with a pet raises our oxytocin levels and reduces our heart rates and stress. Studies of coronary heart disease patients showed that the second most significant factor in survival of these patients was living with a pet. The only factor more significant was the severity of heart disease. Pets factored more heavily than spouses, family or close friends. That’s pretty amazing!
Studies have shown that not only is our oxytocin increased when we pet our companion animals, but their oxytocin levels are raised as well. Studies on rats showed that if a rat were stroked 45 times per minute for two minutes, the rat’s oxytocin level rose, while the stress rate, heart rate and blood pressure all decreased. In addition, the rat was more sedate and had a higher pain threshold. This was not true of rats just being held but not stroked. When stroked for five minutes, the effects were even more profound and longer lasting.
If that’s not enough to convince you that living with dogs or other companion animals is good for you, consider this: studies have shown that people with pets are perceived as friendlier, happier, more positive, more relaxed and less threatening.
There’s a reason I love spending so much time with my dogs. Now I have proof that it’s not just enjoyable – it’s essential for my health!