By Chelsea Roff
We post a lot of cute animal photos. Mostly, we do it because our readers seem to love them. It never ceases to amaze us how much a picture of a baby gorilla gets liked, commented on, and shared. But lately, we’re recognizing the hidden value of cuteness—the opportunity to pair heartwarming images with real, meaningful insights about the way the world works.
So check it out. A couple weeks ago, we told you about a group of scientists who recently made a bold proclamation that many non-human animals (including mammals, rodents, and birds) have the capacity to experience human-like emotions. Now, we’d like to share evidence that suggests that you’re not completely crazy if you think of your pet as your best friend or baby. It turns out that when you cuddle with your pet, your body releases a similar neurochemical cocktail as the one that’s released when you’re being affectionate with another person. So if you feel like petting your dog after a hard day at work makes you feel better than going to the bar for a drink, you’re probably not imagining it.
Scientists first began researching the bond between humans and animals back in the 1970s, when it was discovered that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Other studies have shown that cuddling with dogs reduces blood pressure. In fact, just a few years ago, the National Institutes of Health created a federal research program to study the impact of animals on child development, physical and psychological healing, and public health.
So why do you feel so good when you cuddle with your dog? Scientists at the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction found that interacting with animals leads to a release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, which is sometimes referred to as “cuddle hormone” because of its influence on maternal behavior and pair bonding, is present in all mammals—so it’s likely that your pup is getting the warm and fuzzy feeling too.
But hey, if you don’t take scientists’ word for it, the pictures don’t lie. Here are five images to suggest that animals like a cuddle buddy just as much as humans do:
Chelsea Roff is Managing Editor for Intent Blog. She is a speaker, survivor, and advocate writing about women’s health, humanitarian issues, and the intersection of science and yoga. Check out Chelsea’s website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
All pictures via BuzzFeed.