Scientists have confirmed what many of us already know and feel: your love for your dog can be very similar to a mother’s love for her child.
“Alloparenting,” – adopting and caring for different species – has occurred for tens of thousands of years (the first domesticated dog dates back to 32,000 years ago).
In this small study, researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital compared the human-pet bond with that of the maternal-child bond. To do so, they asked 14 women to look at photos of their babies and their dogs, as well as photos of babies and dogs that they didn’t know, while under MRI examination.
The study states, “There was a common network of brain regions involved in emotion, reward, affiliation, visual processing and social cognition when mothers viewed images of both their child and dog,”
The unfamiliar photos didn’t have the same effect. This means pet parents think of their dogs in a way very similar to how they think of their own children!
“Although this is a small study that may not apply to other individuals, the results suggest there is a common brain network important for pair-bond formation and maintenance that is activated when mothers viewed images of either their child or their dog,” says Luke Stoeckel, PhD, MGH Department of Psychiatry, co-lead author of the PLOS ONE report in a press release from Massachusetts General Hospital.
Although more research remains to be done, it does make sense that we should have such important bonds with our pets.
“Pets hold a special place in many people’s hearts and lives, and there is compelling evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that interacting with pets can be beneficial to the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of humans,” says Lori Palley, DVM, of the MGH Center for Comparative Medicine, co-lead author of the report.
After all, dogs may not be children, but they’re still family.