Pets And The Brain

Who’s A Good Boy?

Do you stop to pet every dog and cat you encounter? Does it fill you with absolute joy? 

There’s a reason for this and it has everything to do with your brain. 

But first a little background…

Kis et al report, domesticated pets have now been living in the “human environment for several millennia.” As a result of this cohabitation, some pets have developed human-like social skills. Such as: 

  • Attachment to the owner 
  • Following of human referential gestures 
  • Sensitivity to human ostensive cues. 

Due to this development of human-like characteristics, we have come to understand our pets as members of the family. Even creating strong and close bonds with our pets. 

According to Statista.com, in 2019, an estimated 40% of the UK population owned a pet. And we’re sure to see this number rise this year. 

Which asks the questions, what goes on in our brains when it comes to our furry friends? 

It’s A Chemical Thing 

Now that we’ve established our physical relationship with animals, it’s time to look at how these close bonds we form with our pets affect our brains and its chemicals. 

Whenever you pet a dog or a cat, your brain releases a bunch of reward chemicals. This has a lot to do with something called the “anterior cingulate cortex” and it plays a huge role in our emotion and cognition.  

The brain’s response to different stimuli varies. It tends to classify stimuli either as pleasant or unpleasant. Petting cute animals sensation, goes straight into the pleasant category. 

So, whenever something touches our skin and it feels good, according to Petable.care, it triggers a “serotonin and dopamine release.” This creates a state of calmness. 

Because of this growing area of research, charities such as Therapy Dogs Nationwide are becoming popular. Their goal is to provide “comfort, distraction and stimulation” to people who may need it. 

We even had two volunteers visit the Peak offices to provide much-needed solace on the dreaded Blue Monday. 

Happy Chemicals

On the streets, oxytocin is also called the “happy hormone.” Kis et al., researchers of the study Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Human Directed Social Behavior in Dogs note, Oxytocin receptor gene polymorphisms are associated with human directed social behavior in dogs (Canis familiaris).

Oxytocin also plays a crucial role in human sociality. Moreover, it’s the chemical present in sexual bondings and all things labour/parent related. 

Researchers Petersson et al. conducted a study in Skara Sweden. In the study, they monitored the chemical levels of dogs and their owners through various interactions in the form of blood tests. 

The study came to some heartwarming results which found:

Dog and owner interaction increases oxytocin levels in owners and dogs, and also decreasing  cortisol levels in owners and increasing cortisol levels in dogs

Petersson et al.

(It’s important to note here – increased levels of cortisol the “stress hormone” don’t show signs of stress but rather a “reflection of positive arousal and preparation/expectation of activity in dogs.”) 

Sensory stimulation has also shown a positive impact on animals and humans. The following areas show positive changes:

  • Decreased cortisol levels
  • Decreased blood pressure 
  • Increased function of the gastrointestinal tract 
  • Increased pain threshold. 

After all the scientific research we have looked at, we can conclude that having pets is great. Both for you and for them. The interaction and relationship you develop with them aids your brain and theirs for the better.

Whilst there definitely is room for more research when it comes to other pets and how they affect our brain, it’s good to know that dogs feel the same about us as we do about them – and they’re good for your brain!

That’s what we would call a win-win.

Here at Peak, we love our furry friends and in honour of National Pet Day, we hope you enjoyed the pictures our Peaksters Pets!

Sources Cited: 

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0083993

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5645535/

https://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/jnp.23.2.jnp121

Sajal Azam

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