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“I think it is safe to say that animals are beneficial to our mental and physical health," says Nancy Gee, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Gee says evidence is accumulating that levels of the stress hormone cortisol drop in people after just 5 to 20 minutes spent interacting with dogs — even if it's not their pet. "Also, we see increases in oxytocin, that feel-good kind of bonding hormone," she says.

And it's not just humans that benefit from these brief exchanges. "What I love about this research is that it's a two-way street," Gee says. "We see the same thing in the dogs, so the dogs' oxytocin also increases when they interact with a human."

Dog ownership has also been linked to positive health outcomes, including better heart health and increased physical activity.

Source: NPR