Why do we love pets on the internet?

If you’re a chronic internet scroller like me, odds are you see videos or photos of pets each day. Pets are all over the internet, many even have their own social networking accounts and have successfully achieved celebrity status. The internet’s most famous dog, Boo, has met celebs like Seth Rogan and Anderson Cooper and has a whopping 16M likes on Facebook. Grumpy Cat, the internet’s most famous feline, starred in her own movie.

In 2017, BarkBox conducted a study of 1,000 dog owners and their social media habits. Unsurprisingly, they loved consuming and sharing dog-related content. BarkBox concluded that dog owners post about their pets on social media an average of six times per week and watched dog videos three times per week. Furthermore, 20 percent of the photos taken on a dog person’s phone are of their pet.

The world wide web loves its pets, and for good reason! It’s been shown that interacting with a well-behaving pet causes changes in oxytocin, making humans feel happier and less stressed. But when we see videos or photos of pets, it’s not the same as petting or playing with one. So, why is the internet so crazy about pets?

Researchers at Caltech showed 41 study participants various photos and measured their subsequent activity in one part of the brain, the amygdala, which is responsible for alerting us to things we’re emotional interested in. When the study participants saw photos of buildings, people, and animals, the photos of animals elicited the greatest responses.

Surprisingly, it made no difference if the photo was of a cuddly animal, like a cat, or a potentially dangerous animal, like a snake. This is likely due to our evolutionary past. It was important for pre-historic humans to be aware of all surrounding animals, many of which could be dangerous and some of which could mean dinner. The way we view animals has certainly changed since then, but it turns out, our emotional response to animals remained strong.

Based on this information, it would make sense for people who have dogs, cats or other animals to also be interested in pets online. Because we love our animals, our amygdala tells us to feel an emotional response when see photos or videos of pets on the internet.

Applying this research to our marketing efforts for our cause-based pet clients has proven effective, both in helping develop brand identities and expand charitable impact. Nonprofit organizations like Maddie’s Pet Project and Pets of the Homeless are able to help people and their animals across the country because of humans’ love for pets. Maddie’s Pet Project works to advocate for animal welfare across Nevada by supporting animal shelters, engaging animal lovers and expanding access to veterinary care. KPS3 assisted Maddie’s Pet Project in developing a new brand identity that encompasses their legacy and work.

Pets of the Homeless feeds and provides veterinary care to pets of homeless persons across the United States and Canada. Pets of the Homeless quickly grew to more than 400 locations, making their old website difficult to manage. KPS3 designed and built them a new website that was more streamlined for users.

Human’s positive responses to pets online could be an extension of how much we love them in our real lives. Or, it could just be our natural instinct to be aware of animals. Either way, it seems our amygdala plays a role in how much we love pets in both our physical and digital lives. This love for pets helps amazing organizations like Maddie’s Pet Project and Pets of the Homeless provide care and compassion for millions of pets across the nation.

One thing is for sure, as long as the internet exists, there will always be a space for people to discuss and consume content related to the topics they enjoy. For many of us, that’s dogs, cats and other pets. So, bark or meow about your pet on social media all you want. If anyone tells you you’re doing too much, blame it on your amygdala.


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