He's just part of the family. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Scientists have validated what you already knew: The love you feel for your pup can be downright maternal.

In a small brain-imaging study published in PLOS ONE, Massachusetts General Hospital researchers had women look at pictures of their young children and their dogs — as well as unfamiliar babies and dogs.

"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 study states. But unfamiliar photos didn't have the same effect.

The results suggest that these brain networks may be important in forming and maintaining strong emotional bonds, the researchers said in a statement.

But brain response to children and dogs wasn't entirely the same: An area of the brain vital to processing faces was activated more by a dog picture than a child's face, while parts of the midbrain were more active in response to children. It may be that facial cues are more important in human-to-dog communication, given our lack of common language. And the midbrain areas could be vital in forming human-to-human pair b0nds, National Geographic reports.

These results aren't exactly surprising. For many young Americans, dogs seem to be replacing children as a late-20's family addition. And since previous studies have indicated that dogs form bonds with their "parents" in much the same way that human babies do, it's only fair that we love them back in the same way.