Pets as Serotonin Boosters

Puppy Love: Pets and serotonin

There have been indications for some time from anectdotal reports and research that people, especially seniors, who live with a pet (usually a dog or a cat) are healthier, happier, and recover more rapidly from illness. A common assumption has been that this is the result of a combination of the required increased activity in caring for the pet, and the companionship provided by another living thing. This article points to another reason…

Puppy Love
July 21, 2004
by Karen Lurie, ScienCentral

Any dog owner can tell you about the benefits of spending time with a furry friend. But now there’s some science to back it up.  ‘We have known for a long time that people like to interact with dogs and that it makes them feel happy and they enjoy it,’ says Rebecca Johnson, a gerontologist at University of Missouri-Columbia’s Sinclair School of Nursing. ‘But it’s important to know how this affects the changes in their bloodstream, so we can see which patients might be the best to benefit from this kind of interaction.’

In her on-going study, Johnson asks 50 dog owners and 50 non-pet owners, with ages ranging from 19 to 73, to play with a live dog and a robot dog. Before and after the interactions, she draws blood samples from human and dog, to compare hormone levels. ‘One of the hormones that we are interested in, which is called serotonin, is the hormone that controls depression in people,’ Johnson explains.

Johnson’s preliminary results show that serotonin increases when people pet their own dogs. ‘We think this is very important because of the large numbers of people in this country and abroad that are depressed, particularly the elderly, that we think may benefit from this kind of interaction,’ says Johnson. However, interaction with an unfamiliar dog didn’t affect serotonin levels. When it came to the robotic dog, serotonin levels actually dropped.

The dogs in the study all benefited from human interaction, whether they previously knew the person or not. Veterinarian Richard Meadows measured the dogs’ blood pressure and blood hormone levels during the test period. “It’s both good for the dog and it’s good for the person, and this appears at this state to be almost universally true,” he says.

pets, pet therapy, depression, mental health

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1 Comment

  1. I like the idea of owning a pet for therapy. I, being a chiropractor, will suggest some of my patients to own a pet and see the results.

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