Children’s relationships with their pets are a significant source of emotional support, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. Researchers found children were happier with their pets than with their siblings, and pets were important companions who provided emotional support.
Previous research suggests pet ownership may make children mentally and physically healthier. Children who live with pets are less likely to develop allergies, and they contract fewer respiratory infections. They are also more likely to be able to successfully manage mental health issues.
How Children Lean on Pets for Support
The study involved 12-year-olds who had at least one pet and one sibling. Researchers used the Network of Relationships Inventory (NRI) to assess the quality of children’s relationships with their pets and with other family members.
Children reported more satisfying relationships with their pets than with their siblings. Dog owners had better relationships with their pets than did other pet owners. Survey responses also suggested girls have more complex relationships with their pets, reporting greater disclosure, more companionship, and more conflict with their pets than boys reported. Other studies have found boys report closer relationships with their pets.
The Benefits of Pet Ownership
Previous studies point to the mental and physical health benefits of pet ownership in adults and children. One study, for example, found pets could help with the management of mental health conditions. Another study found children with pets were better able to manage anxiety.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, dogs are the most popular pet and are present in 36.5% of households. Cats are present in 30.4% of households, with 3.1% of households owning birds, and 1.5% owning horses.
- Cassels, M. T., White, N., Gee, N., & Hughes, C. (2017). One of the family? Measuring young adolescents’ relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 49, 12-20. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003
- Park, A. (2012, July 9). Study: Why dogs and cats make babies healthier. Retrieved from http://healthland.time.com/2012/07/09/study-why-dogs-and-cats-make-babies-healthier/
- U.S. pet ownership statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-pet-ownership.aspx
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