Petting Puppies Puts People in Positive Picture

The next time a dog comes bounding up to you for a wet, sloppy kiss and a good belly rub, dont back away. In an ongoing study, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher has found that interacting and petting animals creates a hormonal response in humans that can help fight depression.

“Our preliminary results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs,” said Rebecca Johnson,  (University of Missouri-Columbia) professor of nursing and veterinary medicine, who presented these initial findings at the Companion Animals: Fountains of Health conference at Barcelona Autonomous University last month. “This hormone is critical in the psychological well-being of an individual. In addition, we have discovered that there is no substitute for the real thing.”

In her study, Johnson, along with Richard Meadows, clinical associate professor of veterinary medicine, is asking dog owners and non-pet owners to play with a live animal or a robot dog for a few minutes at a time. Johnson draws blood from the human and the dog prior to and after the interaction and then compares the blood for hormone levels. People taking part in the study ranged in age from 19 to 73. Preliminary results indicate a significant increase in the levels of serotonin following interaction with the live dog, Johnson said.

“In addition to serotonin, we also are seeing increases in the amounts of prolactin and oxytocin, more of those `fenes,” Johnson said. “Our research also is trying to determine what types of people would best benefit from being with animals. By showing this benefit, we can help pet-assisted therapy become a medically accepted intervention that might be prescribed to patients.”Preliminary results indicate that levels of serotonin, a hormone in humans that helps fight depression, rise dramatically after interaction with live animals, specifically dogs,” said Rebecca Johnson, MU professor of nursing and veterinary medicine, who presented these initial findings at the Companion Animals: Fountains of Health conference at Barcelona Autonomous University last month. “This hormone is critical in the psychological well-being of an individual. In addition, we have discovered that there is no substitute for the real thing.”

In her study, Johnson, along with Richard Meadows, clinical associate professor of veterinary medicine, is asking dog owners and non-pet owners to play with a live animal or a robot dog for a few minutes at a time. Johnson draws blood from the human and the dog prior to and after the interaction and then compares the blood for hormone levels. People taking part in the study ranged in age from 19 to 73. Preliminary results indicate a significant increase in the levels of serotonin following interaction with the live dog, Johnson said.

“In addition to serotonin, we also are seeing increases in the amounts of prolactin and oxytocin, more of those `fenes,” Johnson said. “Our research also is trying to determine what types of people would best benefit from being with animals. By showing this benefit, we can help pet-assisted therapy become a medically accepted intervention that might be prescribed to patients.”

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