Children May Have Better Relationships with Pets Than Siblings

Child hanging out with pet dog and catChildren’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 study’s authors suggest pet ownership may support social skills and psychological well-being in children. They point to the role of future research in evaluating how pets affect child development.

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.


  1. 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
  2. Park, A. (2012, July 9). Study: Why dogs and cats make babies healthier. Retrieved from
  3. U.S. pet ownership statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • Jerry


    February 22nd, 2017 at 11:36 AM

    Well the pet usually won’t tell your mom if you misbehave and most of the time they will play right into any mischief that you get into.

  • Richard


    February 26th, 2017 at 1:34 PM

    I was never all that close to my siblings but we always had a dog or two to pal around with and yeah, I always felt so close to them. I would bring them all inside to sleep even though I knew that my mother hated it. And they were the ones I would run off and play with every day after school. I love my brothers and sisters but the pets love was always unconditional and for some reason that it exactly what I felt like I needed at that stage in my life. We have always had pets for my children too and I think that we would all say that they are as much a part of the family as any other person that we know.

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