Other than being a furry playmate, have you ever wondered exactly what kind of companion Fido or Puss is to your child? Well, according to a recent study done at the University of Cambridge, children got on better with their furry pals as compared to with a sibling. This might not the be the first of such studies, but it does affirm the theories of how our pets might hold a major influence on a child’s development—it has a positive impact on his/her social skills and emotional well-being!

Published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, this study was conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition. It’s considered common for Western households with children to have pets, with at least 74 percent of families with a 10-year-old child owning a domestic pet.

Thus, the aim of this study was to understand if children reported stronger relationships with their pets than siblings, and how gender and pet species could change the quality of these relationships.

Researchers surveyed 12-year-old children from more than 70 families with one or more pets in their homes. The domestic pets could be of any type, and there could be more than one child in the homes of the children participating in the study.

Methods Used 

  • Participating children with more than one pet or sibling at home were asked to complete quizzes about their favourite pet or sibling.

  • 31 participants spoke about their relationships with their dogs, while the remaining 46 participants spoke about their relationships with a pet of a different species.

Results showed that these children reported strong relationships with their pets compared to their siblings, with significantly lower levels of conflict between the children tested and their siblings. There seemed to be a greater amount of satisfaction and happiness in those who owned dogs than any other kinds of pets (like cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, fishes, and chickens) used in the study.

Professor Claire Hughes from the University of Cambridge, who led this study, said that while pets may not fully understand or be able to respond with words, this did not limit communication between the child and his/her pet. In fact, the children in this study actually shared the same things they did with their siblings, perhaps even more in certain situations.

Language Barrier

Professor Hughes explained further that the language barrier faced when talking to a pet might, in fact, be beneficial to you, as your furkid would not be able to judge you for anything you decide to tell him.  

Previous cases of research had found that boys revealed stronger relationships with their pets in comparison to girls, but this study proved otherwise. “While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pets—this perhaps indicates that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways,” said Professor Hughes.

A large growth in evidence thanks to these studies show that pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion. The social support that children and adolescents receive from pets may actually support psychological well-being later in their lives, although there could be more to learn regarding long-term impacts of furkids on a child’s development.