Do You Treat Your Pets Like Children?

Image courtesy: Wikimedia.org

We often see people refer to their pets as ‘babies’, but does that mean that they consider them to be like their children? How do pets feel about their owners? Let’s see what science has to tell.

Researchers study pet-human relationships

Researchers decided to study the bond that people share with their pets by observing their brain scans. The research study evaluated the response in different parts of the brain when women were shown pictures of their children versus pictures of their pets. The woman who participated in the study had children in the 2-8 age group. What researchers noticed from the scans was that the same parts of the brain that were responsible for reward, social interaction and relationships lit up when the women were shown pictures of their pets and children alike.

What’s interesting is that the part of the brain associated with visual processing showed a higher response when the women were shown pictures of their pets, than the responses recorded when they were shown pictures of their children. So what does this indicate? Researchers say that it could mean that human-pet relationships have visual indication as one of their strong links, while human-child relationships have both verbal and visual indications. Researchers have also found that the levels of hormones like oxytocin which is known for maternal bonding traits increase when women interact with their pets, confirming that pet parents do feel about pets the same way that they feel about their children, even if not entirely.

How do dogs view their pet parents?

A different research study decided to see how dogs felt about their pet parents, and especially understand if the concept of “Secure Base Effect” existed, as seen with caregiver-baby relationships. A Secure Base Effect is observed between infants and parents. It is seen that infants gain more confidence to explore and interact the environment around when their caregivers or secure base is around.

Researchers observed dogs who were given interactive food reward toys in three cases- the presence of a silent owner, absence of owner, and presence of encouraging owner. What they noticed was that the dogs did not interact with these food toys when their owners were not present, while they showed more interest in interacting with these toys in the other two cases.

Researchers then studied an alternate case where the dog was given a food dispenser toy and left in the presence of a stranger. They saw that the dog did not interact with the dispenser toy in this case either. What they concluded from the study was that dogs felt more confident to interact with their surroundings when their owners were around, much like how infants feel about their parents!

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