This Is What 10 Minutes of Petting a Dog Does to Your Brain, According to Science

Mark Zuckerberg has an adorable white mop named Beast. Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s Labradoodle Jeffree is only slightly less fluffy. President Biden has bite-prone Major and his better behaved elder sibling Champ. Salesforce founder Marc Benioff’s golden retriever Koa actually held the honorary title of “chief love officer” at the company for years. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s hungry pup Bailey got internet famous for stealing a burrito

The list of leaders with beloved pets is nearly endless. Maybe that’s because CEOs are humans and humans love furry companions. But maybe it’s also because those in high-stress roles intuited what recent research out of the Washington State University just proved — cuddling your pet is an incredibly effective stress buster. 

This is your brain on pet cuddles. 

The benefits of owning a dog are legion. Pets keep you active, they have been shown to help kids develop leadership skills, and their mere presence makes humans more kind and cooperative. And as most pet owners will tell you, cuddling your beloved fur baby certainly feels like it calms your nerves, leading the WSU researchers to ask, can that soothing effect be measured biologically? 

To find out, they recruited 249 college students for the not-too-onerous task of playing with a room full of cats and dogs for 10 minutes. The students’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol were measured while they waited for their turn, while observing others cavorting with the furry cuties, and after they’d had their chance to go in for a good snuggle. 

It turns out that warm glow you get from interacting with your pet isn’t just subjective. It shows up in your body’s chemistry. The researchers found a significant drop in the level of stress hormone cortisol in the students after they played with the animals as compared with when they merely watched the adorability unfold or had no contact with the pets. 

That is, of course, gratifying for pet owners who have long believed their furry best friends are also incredible stress busters, but it’s also good news for their health. Chronic stress has been linked with serious negative health consequences, such as increased risk of heart disease and depression. Your dog is therefore probably helping you live a little bit longer. Good boy. 

Tell your skeptical boss (or spouse). 

No wonder the social media accounts of CEOs and politicians are jam packed with adorable puppy faces. So if you’re looking to persuade your boss to let you bring your pandemic pup back to the office with you, or if you’re looking to convince your pet-skeptical spouse it’s finally time to take a trip to the animal shelter, show them this study. 

The benefits of pet ownership aren’t just in your mind. Your furry companion really is one of the best stress relievers out there. 

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