At a time when more families in India and elsewhere are keeping pets, a new study at the University of Cambridge says children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their siblings.
Children also appear to get on even better with their animal companions than with brothers or sisters, according to the study published on Thursday in the Journal of Applied Developmental Anthropology. The survey adds to the relatively few studies on the importance of child-pet relationships.
The research contributes to increasing evidence that household pets may have a major influence on child development, and could have a positive impact on children’s social skills and emotional well-being, a university release said.
“Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people,” said Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the department of psychiatry, who led the study.
“We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development.”
In the study, children reported strong relationships with their pets relative to their siblings, with lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction in owners of dogs than other kinds of pets.
Cassels added: ‘‘Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings. The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental.
“While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite. While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways.”