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Hormone Benefits of Animal Assisted Therapy

Have you ever noticed that the presence of an animal improves your mood?

That you suddenly feel happier and more at ease after you’ve spent some

quality time with your furry friend?

Well there is a reason for that!

So what exactly are our healthy hormones and what do they do?

Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter that our bodies create and our nervous system uses it to send messages between nerve cells. Dopamine is responsible for allowing us to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation. When we feel good that we have achieved something, it's because we have a surge of dopamine in the brain.

Oxytocin however is a hormone that acts on organs in the body and as a chemical messenger in the brain. Oxytocin controls key aspects of the reproductive system as well as aspects of human behaviour. Those warm, fuzzy feelings we get…that’s oxytocin.

It has the power to regulate our emotional responses and pro-social behaviors, including trust, empathy, gazing, positive memories, processing of bonding cues, and positive communication.

Dogs act as a social catalyst. They help to illicit social interaction and behaviour, not just in neurotypical people but people on the autism spectrum. (Prothmann et al 2009) found that children on autism spectrum interacted most frequently and for the longest periods with a real dog in comparison to objects or a person. The animal assisted interventions we provide trigger the social catalyst effect, encouraging the young people to open up and participate in social interaction. Even the dogs in our own homes act as social catalysts, families are likely to be closer and interact more with one another.

So what can we do to trigger these hormones…

  • interacting with a dog

  • animal assisted interventions

  • hugging

  • dark chocolate

  • laughter

  • exercising

Activities to boost these hormones in both dogs and humans…

  • walks in nature

  • reading together

  • social interactions

  • eye contact

In conclusion, the unconditional love and acceptance that dogs provide through animal assisted therapy, presence of animals and just owning a dog, trigger healthy hormones and reduce the unhealthy ones. Dogs are miracle workers! And I think we can all agree we are so lucky to have them.

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