Researchers from the University of Cambridge found children get greater relationship satisfaction from the pets than their siblings.
“Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people," says Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at the Department of Psychiatry, who led the study. "We wanted to know how strong these relationships are with pets relative to other close family ties. Ultimately this may enable us to understand how animals contribute to healthy child development"
The study, published in the in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, followed 12-year-old children from 77 families with two or more children who had one or more household pet.
The results found children had greater relationships with their pets and less conflict over their siblings, especially with dogs.
"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."
"While previous research has often found that boys report stronger relationships with their pets than girls do, we actually found the opposite.
"While boys and girls were equally satisfied with their pets, girls reported more disclosure, companionship, and conflict with their pet than did boys, perhaps indicating that girls may interact with their pets in more nuanced ways."