Research recently carried out by the Centre of Family Research found that when children are facing adversity, such as illnesses, bereavement, instability and divorce are more likely to confide in the family pet than any of their brothers or sisters.

They found that in a surprising number of cases children turn to pets rather than their peers, developing a stronger bond with their furry (or scaly) confidants.

Matt Cassels, a psychiatric researcher from Cambridge University, believes this is because “they may feel that their pets are not judging them.” He adds that “this is even though they know their pets don’t actually understand what they are saying.”

The study was done over ten years on 100 families living in the UK. Pets have often been associated with children’s play and not as a separate relationship, but Mr Cassels feels we must now consider it “valid to talk about child-pet relationships in the same way we talk about sibling relationships.”

Such relationships encourage more social behaviour such as helping, sharing and co-operating, especially in relationships between girls and pet dogs. Also, the relationship has a therapeutic side, with the pets as a listener for the child, which is more empathetic than writing in diaries.

Mr Cassels suggests that there needs to more evaluation given “how important pets are to us.”

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