Children prefer pets to their brothers and sisters

Family|January 31st 2017

Some children have better relationships with their pets than they do with their brothers and sisters, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge surveyed 12 year-olds from 77 families with at least one household pet. The children reported more positive emotions about their experiences with their pets than they did for time with their siblings. These feelings included comfort and companionship they got from their animals. By contrast, many reported high levels of conflict with their brothers and sisters.

Lead author Matt Cassells is a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry. He said that anyone who grew up with a pet “knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people”. His research sought to discover “how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties”.

Although household animals “may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings” Cassells found. This lack of verbal understanding may even be a positive thing “as it means they are completely non-judgmental” he suggested.

There was also a noticeable difference between the way boys and girls interacted with pets. Although both genders had similar levels of affection for the animals, “girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys”. This could be a sign that girls “interact with their pets in more nuanced ways” Cassells wrote.

The study was published in the academic Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

Photo by Randen Pederson via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Author: Stowe Family Law


  1. Paul Apreda says:

    Another masterful piece by the Stowe team.
    There is a serious point in all this. If we gave 12 year olds a choice between their pet and their siblings this story suggests that they might choose the pet. Would that be ‘in their best interests’? Almost certainly not. What it tells us is that perhaps, just perhaps, we may go too far along the path of the ‘Voice of the Child’.

  2. Andrew says:

    Spot on, Paul. Having to accept the decisions of adults is part of childhood.
    Having said which – pets don’t often damage your toys and they never tell your parents if you’ve been naughty!

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