Effects of Affiliative Human-Animal Interaction on Dog Salivary and Plasma Oxytocin and Vasopressin

Front Psychol. 2017 Sep 20;8:1606. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01606. eCollection 2017.


Oxytocin (OT) and vasopressin (AVP) are neuropeptides with diverse effects on social behavior, cognition and stress responses. Recent studies suggest that OT facilitates and responds to affiliative forms of human-animal interaction (HAI). However, previous studies measuring OT and AVP in dogs have been limited to measures from blood or urine, which present concerns related to the invasiveness of sample collection, the potential for matrix interference in immunoassays, and whether samples can be collected at precise time points to assess event-linked endocrine responses. Previous studies from our laboratory validated salivary measures of OT and AVP in dogs, however, it is currently unknown whether these measures respond dynamically to aspects of HAI. Here, we investigated the effects of affiliative forms of HAI on both plasma and salivary OT and AVP in dogs. We employed a within- and between-subjects design with a group of Labrador retrievers and Labrador retriever × golden retriever crosses (23 females, 15 males). Half of the dogs engaged in 10 min of free-form friendly interaction with a human experimenter (HAI condition), and the other half rested quietly in the same environment, without human interaction (control condition). We collected blood and saliva samples before, and immediately following both experimental conditions, and all samples were analyzed using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) following previously validated protocols. Dogs participating in HAI exhibited a significant increase in both salivary OT (+39%) and plasma OT (+5.7%) whereas dogs in the control group did not. Salivary AVP showed no change in the HAI group but increased significantly (+33%) in the control group. Plasma AVP decreased significantly following HAI (-13%) but did not change across time in the control condition. Within the dogs exposed to HAI, increases in salivary OT, and decreases in plasma AVP, were predicted by the extent of affiliative behavior between the dog and human (indexed by scores from a principal components analysis of social behaviors between the dog and human). Collectively our results suggest that measures of salivary OT and AVP provide useful biomarkers in studies of HAI, and afford a flexible and non-invasive toolkit than can be employed in diverse research contexts.

Keywords: ELISA; dog; human–animal interaction; oxytocin; plasma; saliva; vasopressin.