We all have our childhood pets- whether it be the hamster you needed to take care of at school that you took home, the fish your mom surprised you with on your 6th birthday, or the run-of-the-mill cats and dogs- we’ve all held a little creature close growing up and they will always have that special place in our hearts. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), sixty-five percent of U.S. households (about 79.7 million families) own a pet which means pets are almost as common as siblings.
Hence, a new research explored the relationship of pets relative to other close family ties. Specifically, researchers studied the variation of the quality of child-pet relationship based on the pet type and participant's gender as well as the difference between participants' relationships with pets and with their brothers and/or sisters.
''Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people," says the lead researcher, Matt Cassells of the Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry. Cassels had at least 10 pets when he was growing up yet it didn’t occur to him how important his relationships with them were until he was able to study different related data, leading to this new research.
Moreover, Cassells and colleagues’ study showed that girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls are more likely to interact with their pets in more nuanced ways. Dog owners showed greater satisfaction and companionship, and lower levels of conflict with their pet than did owners of other pets. However, children (both boys and girls) reported stronger and more satisfying relationships with their pets than with their siblings.
''Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings," says Cassels. "The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental,” he adds.
Turns out, there’s a good chance our pets didn’t only occupy that special place in our hearts, our relationship with them were actually thicker than blood.
Matthew T Cassels et al. One of the family? Measuring early adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology
(2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003