Tag Archives: oxytocin

Dogs´social skills linked to oxytocin sensitivity

The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study. The findings contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet.

Golden Retriever

A golden retriever turns to his owner for help. Photo credit: Mia Persson

During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to “ask for help” when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans. The results have been published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior.

The researchers suspected that the hormone oxytocin was involved. It is well-known that oxytocin plays a role in social relationships between individuals, in both humans and animals. The effect of oxytocin depends on the function of the structure that it binds to, the receptor, in the cell. Previous studies have suggested, among other things, that differences in dogs’ ability to communicate are associated with variations in the genetic material located close to the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor. The researchers in the present study examined 60 golden retrievers as they attempted to solve an insoluble problem.

“The first step was to teach the dogs to open a lid, and in this way get hold of a treat. After this, they were given the same task with the lid firmly fixed in place, and thus impossible to open. We timed the dogs to see how long they attempted on their own, before turning to their owner and asking for help,” says Mia Persson, PhD student at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and principal author of the article.

Before the behavioural test, the researchers increased the levels of oxytocin in the dogs’ blood by spraying the hormone into their nose. As a control, the dogs carried out the same test after having received a spray of neutral salt water in the same way. The researchers also collected DNA using a cotton swab inside the dogs’ cheek, and determined which variant of the gene for the oxytocin receptor that each dog had.

The results showed that dogs with a particular genetic variant of the receptor reacted more strongly to the oxytocin spray than other dogs. The tendency to approach their owner for help increased when they received oxytocin in their nose, compared with when they received the neutral salt water solution. The researchers suggest that these results help us understand how dogs have changed during the process of domestication. They analysed DNA also from 21 wolves, and found the same genetic variation among them. This suggests that the genetic variation was already present when domestication of the dogs started, 15,000 years ago.

“The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate, and then bred subsequent generations from these,” says Mia Persson.

The genetic variations that the researchers have studied do not affect the oxytocin receptor itself: they are markers used for practical reasons. Further research is necessary to determine in more detail which differences in the genetic material lie behind the effects.

Per Jensen points out that the study shows how social behaviour is to a large extent controlled by the same genetic factors in different species.

“Oxytocin is extremely important in the social interactions between people. And we also have similar variations in genes in this hormone system. This is why studying dog behaviour can help us understand ourselves, and may in the long term contribute to knowledge about various disturbances in social functioning,” he says.

The article: Intranasal oxytocin and a polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene are associated with human-directed social behavior in golden retriever dogs, Persson, M.E., Trottier, A.J., Beltéky, J., Roth, L.S.V., Jensen, P., 2017, Hormones and Behavior 95, 85–93, published online 17 August 2017. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.07.016

Source:  Linköping University media release

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Quantifying the Effects of Service Dogs for Veterans with PTSD

veteran with dog

 

Researchers from the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for the Human Animal Bond will analyze the influence service dogs have on the lives of military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a unique clinical trial.

According to the United States Veterans Administration, 22 veterans commit suicide each day, and at least 40 percent have been diagnosed with PTSD. The rate could be even higher, as many cases of PTSD go undiagnosed.

Previous studies have suggested that individuals who bond with their pet dogs exhibit elevated levels of oxytocin – sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because it sparks emotional responses that contribute to relaxation and trust. Additionally, the National Center for PTSD claims dogs can encourage veterans to communicate more through commands and training, and prompt them to spend more time outdoors and meet new people.

These benefits support anecdotal reports that show an increase in the prevalence of service dogs for individuals with PTSD, but scientific evidence examining this growing trend and its effects on PTSD patients is still lacking.

“Many veterans are increasingly seeking complementary interventions for PTSD, including service dogs,” stated Maggie O’Haire, lead researcher and assistant professor of human-animal interaction at Purdue. “Yet, even with the well-meaning intentions of service dog organizations that are working to meet the demand, our systematic review of scientific literature confirms a lack of published, empirical research on the effects that service dogs have on veterans and their spouses.”

To help carry out the study, the research team has partnered with K9s for Warriors – one of the nation’s leading providers of service dogs to military vets suffering from a variety of conditions including PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, or sexual trauma as a result of service post-9/11.

The team hopes to determine what sort of PTSD symptom changes veterans may experience as a result of having a service dog, as well as any effects on social functioning and physiological biomarkers.

According to a university release, standardized survey instruments and objective measures of physiology will be used to track stress and functioning. The researchers will also use a novel ecological momentary assessment protocol to capture the role and function of the dogs in everyday life.

The results will be the first evidence-based data to be published that quantitatively identifies the roles and effects of service dogs for military veterans with PTSD.

The study is unique because it applies research methodology and evidence-based science to an area that has typically relied on emotion, according to O’Haire.

“Without scientifically sound studies that establish proof-of-concept for the therapeutic efficacy of PTSD service dogs, this animal-assisted intervention strategy will continue to be minimized as an unsupported and potentially unsound practice, despite anecdotal reports that the dogs may have a significant impact,” added O’Haire.

Source:  www.laboratoryequipment.com

Kids with dogs have less anxiety

A research team at Bassett Medical Center in New York has found that kids with a dog at home experience far less clinical anxiety than do children who are dog-less.

This small study adds to the growing body of knowledge about the human-animal bond and the positive health impacts of dog ownership.

Child and dog

Read more about this study on NBC News.


Other blog posts about kids, dogs and health:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Hug me, I need the oxytocin

Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone that is released during the act of touching and hugging.   For these reasons, the hormone is often referred to as ‘the cuddle hormone’ or ‘the love hormone.’  (The hormone is also released during childbirth, by the way).

As a dog owner, your relationship with your dog is likely to involve you and your dog triggering the release of oxytocin in one another.  Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist and autism researcher, has found that ‘A dog’s oxytocin levels rise when his owners pet him and petting his dog raises the owner’s oxytocin too.’    In other words, this hormone plays a role in the human-animal bond.

In 2003, J.S.J. Odendaal and R.A. Meintjes of the  Life Sciences Institute at Pretoria published research into the blood levels of endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin, B-phenylethylamine and dopamine (all associated with pleasure response or relaxation) and cortisol (a known stress hormone) in people and dogs both before and after they interacted with each other.  The researchers compared levels of the neurochemicals under three scenarios:   1) after people petted their own dogs 2)  after they petted unfamiliar dogs and 3) after they sat quietly and read a book.

In both humans and dogs, the levels of the pleasure-response chemicals  rose after 5 to 24 minutes.  At the same time, cortisol levels in humans fell as they spent time with their pets.   The increase in oxytocin was highest in the group where people interacted with their own dogs, as opposed to dogs that were unfamiliar to them.

In 2008, Miho Nagasawa’s research team in Japan showed that only eye contact was necessary between dogs and their humans to increase oxytocin levels.  After 30 minutes of contact with their dog, owners showed an increase in oxytocin levels.

Dr Kerstin Uvnäs-Moberg from Uppsala University, studies oxytocin and its effects.  Her 2010 study showed that women and their dogs experienced increases in their oxytocin levels after only 10 minutes of contact.  When compared to a survey of the women, their oxytocin response was in direct correlation with the quality of the bond they felt for their pet.

For those of us who have experienced this bond during our lives, it is probably not surprising that there is a scientific reason for our feelings and that it is hormone-related.  But it’s nice to have science on our side.

For those of you raising puppies, these studies show that there  is a good scientific reason to ensure your  puppy is socialised.  It is not surprising  that dogs involved in hoarding cases or puppy mills are withdrawn and in many cases frightened of humans.  They aren’t accustomed to the positive effects of oxytocin release and in many cases have suffered other traumas.

Hey Daisy, give me a hug…I need the oxytocin.

Have you hugged your dog today?

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand