Psychiatry researchers at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, found that kids would rather have a pet than a sibling. Moreover, girls and boys bond differently with their pets.


Boys build their relationships with pets differently than girls. But both preffer pets to their siblings, study says.


A team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom wanted to measure the importance of pets in a child’s life from a social point of view and not only. The emotions of our kids develop in close connection to the social relationships. The researchers studied the impact of a child’s relationship with his pet friend on the his mental health.

Here is how the study went: the researchers admitted in the study 77 participants. All of them were children of about 12 years of age. They all had at least one sibling and one pet in their household.

The researchers used the NRI (Network of Relationships Inventory) as a measuring tool, to find the quality of the relationships the participants had with their other siblings and with their pets. The test measures, among other things, the level of emotional support, comradery and conflict.

As it turns out, children reported getting better satisfaction from the relationship with their four-legged friends than with their brothers or sisters.

Study leader William T. Cassels explains the results: “The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely nonjudgmental”. He also added that there was no difference in results, between siblings and pets, when it came to communication. “Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings.”

In addition to these findings, the study also revealed something unexpected: girls and boys bond with their pets on different levels. Cassels says that results showed a more profound human-pet relationship in girls than in boys. Both care about and love their pets just as much, but girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys,”, which Cassels explains through, possibly, “more nuanced ways” girls interact with their furry friends.

Previous studies have shown the positive effects that having a pet brings into a household and this one adds another piece to the puzzle. It is not yet fully understood the complexity of the influence pets have on their owners – children and adults – and how this dynamic could be more beneficial to both, but what this study adds is bring to the surface more evidence that “pets have positive benefits on human health and community cohesion”. People of all ages, from toddlers to elders enjoy more positive, constructive social skills when they also enjoy the company of a pet. In elders, pet ownership has been demonstrated to boost overall well-being as well as reduce depression and anxiety.

In the United States, 66.5 million households have at least one pet. The most common are cats and dogs. – 36% of households own at least one dog and 30.4% have a at least one cat.