Pets give us those “warm fuzzy” feelings.  Those big brown puppy eyes, or tiny little kitty paws just melt our hearts from the moment we lay eyes on our darling fur-babies. Studies have proven a whole host of the positive effects of pet parenting, some of which include how petting a dog or cat releases endorphins in the human, or how playing with and talking to animals helps children suffering from mental illness, depression, autism, or PTSD. Apparently even our moods are improved by simply watching cat videos for 10-20 minutes per day!

But that is not all. Not only do pets increase beneficial aspects of our lives (like exercise, forcing us to regularly spend time outdoors, giving us stability, routines, etc.) they also bring out a deep maternal instinct in women. Here are some of the recent findings in that regard.

Women, Pets and Maternal Instincts

When people refer to their pets as their “children” we usually just smile, and understand that they mean they just really, really love their pet. However, a surprising new study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital reflects that the way women relate to their pets closely correlates with the way they interact with and view their own children.

The study observed a sample of women whom had children under the age of 10 (and therefore in need of a certain amount of overseeing, provision and hands-on care.) The same women also had to be dog owners for a period of longer than two years.  Brain scans were operated while the women would look at images of their children as well as their dogs.

The magnetic resonance scans showed heightened activity in the parts of the brain that reflect reward, emotion, and social interactions when the women would look at pictures of their pets or their children.  There was visibly less oxygen flow and brain activity in those areas when the images given the women were of other children and other pets. These findings support the fact that facial recognition of the persons own child and own dog have closer ties to their positive memories, emotions and hormones than simply “cute” random animals and children. (Granted, it is fair to note that the brain activity of the SNi/VTA nucleus accumbens were higher in regard to the women’s children than the animals.)  Nevertheless, the same “pair-bonding” inclinations that occur between a mother and child also seem to form strongly between a mother and her pet as well.

Dr. Randy Gollub, as associate professor of psychiatry, summarized the study by saying “The similarities and differences in brain activity revealed by the scans may help generate hypotheses that will eventually provide an explanation for the complexities underlying human-animal relationships.”  We would agree with that assumption.