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Oxytocin: The Neuro'pup'tide That's Got Us Feeling All Mushy Inside

When Dusty Springfield sang the words “the look of love is in your eyes,” she probably wasn’t talking about her dog. But, Takefumi Kikusui—a professor of veterinary medicine at Azabu University's Companion Animal Research Lab in Japan—would argue that she very well could have been.

And while dog owners might not have needed science to confirm those warm-n-fuzzies we all feel when locking eyes with fluffy across the couch, Kikusui’s recent studies on human-pet interaction—which were published in the journal, Science, this month—demonstrate that both humanoids and their pups produce some serious happy, feel-good neurochemical reactions during quality gazing time.

Kikusui and his colleagues compared levels of oxytocin in both dogs and their owners pre- and post-time they spent together—which was about 30 minutes. They discovered that—much like in human relationships—the hormone linked to trust and bonding had correlative spikes in both owner and pup.

The study also looked at whether or not a similar molecular phenomenon was evident in humans who were raising wolves, but found that no such biologically-based connectionexisted in Fluffy’s more feral relative. So, if you happen to be raising a wolf here in Brooklyn, well, sorry. Or, if you’re wandering around in the Catskills this summer and happen to come across a wolf, do not—we repeat, do not—look into its eyes and expect it to be feeling all gooey and sentimental for you.

So, the next time you’re intensely looking through your Instagram or Facebook feed on your phone, and you literally feel your pup eyeing you for some attention, remember that it’s just trying to rescue you from the oxytocin-less digital space. …Oh, and maybe woo you into giving it a treat or two.

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