Study shows how children relate to their pets

June 14, 2013
Study shows how children relate to their pets

In a study of more than 1,000 school children, scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown that the bond between a child and their pet is a significant part of growing up in families from a variety of social and cultural backgrounds.

Little is known about the social and in how relate to family pets. Research at Liverpool, in collaboration with MARS Petcare and the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, Liverpool John Moores University and Liverpool City Council, investigated the factors that influenced this relationship, such as gender and if the child had siblings.

The research looked at the ownership of a range of pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, horses and fish. The study showed that more than half of children considered their dog to be their 'favourite' pet, followed by cats. Girls were more likely to own most pet types, but the intensity of the relationship with their pet was no more or less than boys.

Member of the family

They found that 80% of the 1,000 children that took part in the research, considered their pet a member of the family and half confided in their pets as they would a friend. The study revealed that more than a third of children believe their pets understand how they feel.

The research also looked at the impact that pets have on children who do not have siblings, showing the strongest attachment between single children and their pets. The youngest siblings in a family also had stronger attachment to their pets than those with younger to care for.

Children of white ethnicity were more likely to own dogs, rodents and 'other' pets, but were no more or less attached to their pets than children of non-white ethnicity. Families that lived in deprived areas were more likely to own a dog than those from more affluent parts.

Dr Carri Westgarth, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Infection and , said: "Children who grow up with pets are thought to gain positive health benefits, such as a sense of responsibility and increased physical activity, but until now there has been little attention paid to whether social background, position in the family, and the types of pets owned, make a difference to the way a child relates to pet animals.

"From the study an overwhelming number felt that their was as important as a family member, and although social background, gender and ethnicity played a role in the types of pets that were likely to be owned, they didn't make a difference to how emotionally attached a child was to the animal.

"This suggests that pets can have a significant impact on the socialisation and emotional wellbeing of children growing up, but more work is needed to understand why some pets are more common in certain groups than others, as well as the specific health benefits that particular types of animals can have and whether these effects last into later adult life."

Playing a crucial role

Dr Sandra McCune, Scientific Leader for Human – Animal Interaction, at WALTHAM, said: "Pets play a crucial role in the development of children; allowing them to socialise, care for and nurture others. This is particularly important for children who do not have siblings to learn from and play with, and for the youngest in the family who do not have a younger, more dependable sibling to care for.

"Not only are pets good in terms of exercise and responsibility, but also helping children understand relationships."

The research was published in BMC Veterinary Research.

Explore further: Pets may help reduce your risk of heart disease

Related Stories

Pets may help reduce your risk of heart disease

May 9, 2013
Having a pet might lower your risk of heart disease, according to a new American Heart Association scientific statement.

Seniors more likely to crash when driving with pet, study finds

May 25, 2013
(HealthDay)—Animals make great companions for senior citizens, but elderly people who always drive with a pet in the car are far more likely to crash than those who never drive with a pet, researchers have found.

Pet arrival may help individuals with autism develop prosocial behavior

August 1, 2012
The introduction of a pet can have a positive effect on autistic children's behavior, as reported in research published Aug. 1 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

The truth about cats and dogs: Pets are good for mental health of 'everyday people'

July 11, 2011
Pets can serve as important sources of social and emotional support for "everyday people," not just individuals facing significant health challenges, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Recommended for you

Despite benefits, half of parents against later school start times

August 18, 2017
Leading pediatrics and sleep associations agree: Teens shouldn't start school so early.

Doctors exploring how to prescribe income security

August 18, 2017
Physicians at St. Michael's Hospital are studying how full-time income support workers hired by health-care clinics can help vulnerable patients or those living in poverty improve their finances and their health.

Schoolchildren who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try tobacco

August 17, 2017
Vaping - or the use of e-cigarettes - is widely accepted as a safer option for people who are already smoking.

Study shows cigarette makers shifted stance on nicotine patches, gum

August 17, 2017
The use of nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers or nasal sprays—together called "nicotine replacement therapy," or NRT—came into play in 1984 as prescription medicine, which when combined with counseling, helped ...

In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control

August 17, 2017
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) ...

Federal snack program does not yield expected impacts, researchers find

August 17, 2017
A well-intentioned government regulation designed to offer healthier options in school vending machines has failed to instill better snacking habits in a sample of schools in Appalachian Virginia, according to a study by ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.