The Chemical Behind the Warm and Fuzzy

As anyone who has ever loved a dog or cat can tell you, touching a pet relaxes the spirit in ways few other things can. Whoopsie, our ever-patient Labrador Retriever, roams around our house offering medical-grade stress relief with nothing more than her velvety ears and big, lap-sized head. If I could patent her, I’d be a millionaire many times over.

In my therapeutic out-reach program, I watch as formerly withdrawn or isolated individuals open up, petting and reminiscing about the dogs they’ve known and loved. Owning or simply petting a dog can lower blood pressure, fight depression, improve immune function, combat loneliness and reduce stress. Wow!

So how do dogs work this magic? Part of it is the patient, loving non-judgmental thing that dogs do so well. But there’s a bio-chemical component to you dog’s healthy Mojo. It turns out that when we participate in enjoyable activities, our serotonin and dopamine levels climb. And when that happens, we experience a calming, pleasurable effect.  It also seems that warm-blooded animals manufacture a special hormone called oxytocin, which is associated with loving and trusting.

So the next time you’re feeling stressed, lonely or sad, look for the nearest dog, cat or bunny. Rub two ears and call me in the morning!