What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland. It is released during labor and can cause stronger contractions as well as help to control bleeding after birth. It is also released when you snuggle up with a loved one or bond socially.
Oxytocin released during pregnancy has a lot to do with the maternal bonding that can seem so alien to those who are not yet parents.
When a mother has given birth to a newborn, many of them claim love at first sight. In fact, there may be more to this phrase than you’d think. New mothers have a higher levels of oxytocin in their system, a hormone which helps to bond new parents with their children.
Many mammals have higher levels of oxytocin when interacting with their offspring or family, but so far there has been only one case of an interspecies release of oxytocin. The bond between humans and dogs.
Oxytocin Levels Between Humans and Dogs
Oxytocin is not only prevalent mothers that have given birth, this bonding hormone is prevalent between children and their parents, adopted parents and their children, spouses, and even between dogs and their owners. Last year, Takefumi Kikusui, an animal behaviorist, conducted a study at Azabu University to observe the interaction between dogs and their owners. The dog and its owner were given a room to interact in alone for 30 minutes. Before and after the interaction, researchers measured the oxytocin levels of both the canine and human. They found that if the dog and owner had spent a lot of time making eye contact, the oxytocin levels increased in both the dog and the human. The dogs had an increase of 130% and humans an increase of 300%.
Included in the study, were wolves and their owners. No matter how much eye contact was given, oxytocin levels did not increase between these pairs. Wolves aren’t domesticated, and as such still view any eye contact as aggressive. The difference between oxytocin levels in domesticated dogs and wolves likely shows that the hormone had a role in the early domestication of dogs.
In the second round of the experiment, researchers sprayed oxytocin up the dog’s noses to see if this would affect the levels of the hormone in any way. Only the female dogs who had received the oxytocin spray made more eye contact with their humans, and thus had higher oxytocin levels. Dogs interacting with people who were not familiar to them did not produce additional oxytocin in either round of the study.
This study proves that you’re not crazy when you think of your pup as your ‘fur baby’. Instead, it’s only natural to have those feelings since the same hormone is present.
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