Dr. Denis Grillo, Ear, Nose & Throat, 04/30/13

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Do dogs make us healthier?

By Dr. Denis Grillo

If you are a dog owner, I do not need to tell you how much joy and benefit your pet dog brings you, but did you know there is actually some scientific basis for that?

Oxytocin is a hormone that seems to be released in the blood when we have contact with our pet dogs. Oxytocin is a stress-reducing hormone that helps people calm down and decreases their anxiety.

It is produced in the hypothalamus at the base of the brain, and there are neurons, which are nerve cells, in part of the neurologic system that produce and secrete this oxytocin hormone.

Scientists and researchers think that oxytocin could be called a “bonding hormone,” as it seems to function in certain social situations such as the bond between mother and child, and even seems to be elevated in certain ethnic or social groups when they are together.

This bonding effect of the oxytocin hormone is probably stronger in some instances between dog and man than between humans. I think we all probably know examples of when friends or family have bailed out and the dog has remained faithfully at our side.

Some outsiders from other areas of the world look at dogs as being dirty and useless, and might think we are crazy in the way we treat our pets, but there are certain cultures and countries that cherish their pets, and treat them like a family member, and spend and do more for their pet than they would a fellow human.

The statistics in the pet industry, I think, would certainly support that.

Besides creating a bonding effect and being a stress-reducer, dogs also lower our blood pressure and heart rate, and this may be due to the fact that, unlike other pets, you have to interact, walk and exercise with your dog. This gets you up and off of your duff and you’re doing something that is good for you.

Dogs, especially puppies, have a way of eliciting a human’s caregiving response with their cute faces, which also bring out human characteristics such as sympathy and concern — all positive feelings that are not only good to experience, but good for our physical and mental well-being, stimulating the oxytocin hormone release.

One of the interesting points about dogs is they will willingly gaze into a human’s eye, unlike other animals. Researchers think this is very similar to the gaze between a mother and her infant, which is undeniably rewarding and makes you feel good. Dogs, as well as other pets, also teach children to be caring and sympathetic, and teach us how to be responsible for another life.

Despite some researchers who feel pets are social parasites that drain our affection, food, money, time and energy, the benefits of having a pet dog are all around us and noticeable each and every day. Service dogs can help our veterans deal with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The Animal Planet shows feature one cute dog or puppy after the other. Or some cute or mischievous behavior by a pet caught on YouTube, is popular to watch and share with friends.

Dogs serve unselfishly in law enforcement and military settings, and provide personal protection and companionship, but now we have scientific evidence they just somehow magically make us feel good and prolong our lives and happiness.
This article was put together with information from a previously published article in The Week magazine of March 8.

Denis Grillo, D.O., FOCOO, is an ear, nose and throat specialist in Crystal River. Call him at 352-795-0011 or visit CrystalCommunityENT.com.