Why We Bond With Our Dogs Like We Do With Babies

Some dog owners treat their dogs like their babies. While this might seem ridiculous to some, a new study in Science proves the bond between dogs and their owners can be as emotionally strong as the connection between mothers and their children.  It’s the latest in a growing body of science that explains how dogs have gained such an important place in human society.

“Owner-dog bonding is comparable to parent-infant bonding,” writes Takefumi Kikusui, from Azabu University in Japan, via email. “And this is surprising to us … because there is not a reproductive relationship between humans and dogs.”

But any dog lover who has gazed into the big eyes of a pleading pup is not surprised.  Previously, the researchers had shown the eye connection between dogs and humans increases the levels of oxytocin in people. Oxytocin, aka the “cuddle chemical,” is a hormone mammals produce in the brain that encourages bonding between mothers and their offspring. It’s also involved in partner and social bonding.

Most evidence shows this kind of connection works within a species— humans produce oxytocin because of other humans, and dogs produce it because of other dogs.  But the new study is the first to show the hormonal bonding between dog and human.  That is, the feeling is mutual.

Dogs know when we’re happy or angry

In the first experiment, the researchers measured oxytocin levels in 28 pairs of dogs and their humans before watching them interact for 30 minutes. People talked, petted, and looked at their canines. Afterward, the researchers screened oxytocin levels again.  The results:   owners and pups that gazed at one another more showed increased oxytocin.

Humans “use eye gaze for affiliative communications and [are] very much sensitive to eye contact,” says Kikusui. “Gaze, in particular, (over touch, for example) led to the release of oxytocin.”

For the second experiment, the researchers dosed 54 dogs with either a spray of saline or oxytocin in the nose. The female dogs treated with oxytocin spent more time gazing at their owners, which after 30 minutes boosted the levels of their owners’ oxytocin.  “[This] suggests that this gaze behavior is really critical in oxytocin release,” says Evan MacLean, senior research scientist and co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, who wrote an article about the findings. “When they receive oxytocin, this causes dogs to look more at people and the more they look, it boosts [oxytocin levels] more.”

What’s more: Wolves, which dogs descended from about 30,000 years ago, do not experience an increase in oxytocin from gaze.  “This means that dogs have acquired this superior ability during [the] evolutional/domestic process living with humans,” says Kikusui.  This provides more evidence of how deeply dogs are attuned to humans.  We make the claim that dogs might have hijacked [the oxytocin] pathway. It is in place in humans and we use this in our romantic relations and with children. And we know it is important,” says MacLean. “This is sort of an accidental thing that happens over … time.”

“This special bonding relationship with dogs is fairly unique,” he says.  So our advice… keep cuddling with your furry friends!


Dangerous Pills for Pets

Anyone who takes medication prescribed for someone else puts themselves at risk of illness or even death – and this true with your pets, as well. Although there are many medications used in both animals and people, the effects, doses needed, and other things aren’t always equivalent.

About one-quarter of all phone calls to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) are related to human medications being ingested by a pet. Your pet can easily ingest dropped pills or may be given harmful human medications by an unknowing owner, resulting in illness, or even death, of your pet.

The APCC provided us with the 10 most common human medication complaints they receive. Here they are, in order based on the number of complaints:

Ibuprofen – Ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) is the most common human medication ingested by pets. Many brands have a sweet outer coating that makes it appealing to pets (think “M&M,” but a potentially deadly one). Ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure.

Tramadol – Tramadol (Ultram®) is a pain reliever. Your veterinarian may prescribe it for your pet, but only at a dose that’s appropriate for your pet – never give your medication to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian! Too much tramadol can cause sedation or agitation, wobbliness, disorientation, vomiting, tremors and possibly seizures.

Alprazolam – Alprazolam (Xanax®) is prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication and a sleep-aid. Most pets that ingest alprazolam can become sleepy and wobbly; however a few will become very agitated instead. These pills are commonly ingested by pets as people put them out on the nightstand so they remember to take them. Large doses of alprazolam can drop the blood pressure and could cause weakness or collapse.

Adderall® – Adderall® is a combination of four different amphetamines and is used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. This medication doesn’t have the same effect in pets as it does in people; it acts as a stimulant in our pets and causes elevated heart rate and body temperature, along with hyperactivity, tremors and seizures.

Zolpidem – Zolpidem (Ambien®) is a sleep-aid for people. Pets commonly eat pills left on the bedside table. Zolpidem may make cats wobbly and sleepy, but most pets become very agitated and develop elevated heart rates.

Clonazepam – Clonazepam (Klonopin®) is used as an anticonvulsant and anti-anxiety medication. It is sometimes also prescribed as a sleep-aid. When animals ingest clonazepam they can become sleep and wobbly. Too much clonazepam can lower the blood pressure, leading to weakness or collapse.

Acetaminophen – Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) is a very common pain killer found in most households. Cats are extremely sensitive to acetaminophen, but dogs can be affected too. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. It can also cause damage to your pet’s red blood cells so that the cells are unable to carry oxygen – like your body, your pet’s body needs oxygen to survive.

Naproxen – Naproxen (Aleve®, Naprosyn®) is an over-the-counter pain reliever. Dogs and cats are very sensitive to naproxen and even small amounts can cause stomach ulcers and kidney failure.

Duloxetine – Duloxetine (Cymbalta®) is prescribed as an antidepressant and anti-anxiety agent. When ingested by pets it can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.

Venlafaxine – Venlafaxine (Effexor®) is an antidepressant. For some unknown reason, cats love to eat the capsules. Ingestion can cause agitation, vocalization, tremors and seizures.

As you can tell from this list, a medication that does one thing for people does not necessarily do the same for our pets. And although this may be the list of the medications about which the APCC receives the largest numbers of complaints, remember that any human medication could pose a risk to your pets and not just those listed above.

We recommend the following guidelines to keep your pets safe:

  • Always keep human medications away from pets unless you are specifically instructed by a veterinarian to give the medication;
  • Do not leave pills sitting on counter or any place a pet can get to them;
  • Do not leave pill bottles within reach of pets (You’ll be surprised how fast your dog can chew through a pill bottle.);
  • If you’re taking medications out of the bottle and you drop any of it, pick it up immediately so you know your pet won’t be able to eat it;
  • Always contact your veterinarian if your pet has ingested any medication not prescribed for them;
  • Never give your medication (or any medications prescribed for a two-legged family member) to your pet without first consulting a veterinarian.

…and last, but not least, always keep the number for Lange Animal Clinic handy (309-347-4679) and the APCC number handy (1-888-426-4435). You don’t want to be looking for it in an emergency situation!

International Assistance Dog Week August 2 – 8


Each year, beginning on the first Sunday in August, the staff at Lange Animal Clinic celebrates the hard work and heroic deeds performed by assistance dogs around the world. This year, International Assistance Dog Week falls on August 2, 2015 – August 8, 2015.

Where the acceptance of service dogs is concerned, we’ve made great strides in the United States over the last year. For example, New Jersey lawmakers have introduced legislation aimed at educating employees on the rights of citizens with a disability to have a guide or service dog with them in public places. This came about after an incident in 2013 involving a legally blind man who was ordered to remove his dog from a store, even after providing proof that his dog was a trained service animal.

In other places in the country, children are being taught about proper etiquette when dealing with service dogs, which is a fantastic step toward increased safety for the disabled, the dog, and the children.  Unfortunately, even in light of all of these positive changes, the process continues to be a slow and tedious one.  Raising awareness about the importance of these animals is going to require many more years of dedication on all of our parts.   These dogs are more than just pets to the people they serve.  They change lives in profound and positive ways, and refusing to welcome them into public places is not the way that they should be treated.

This time next year, we’re looking forward to sharing more progress and positive updates about the acceptance of service dogs.  Here’s how you can help:

  • If you are the owner or manager of a business, we want to encourage you to teach your employees about the importance of service animals and the work they do. You might even consider learning more about how service dogs are actually changing the workplace.
  • International Assistance Dog Week hosts fundraising events all over the United States. If you’re lucky, there will be one in your town this year, which is a great opportunity to support this very important cause.  You can find a local IADW event by clicking HERE.