Skip to main content Skip to navigation

90% of Children List Their Pets in Their Top 10 Special Relationships

Originally Published 20 November 2000

New research by Dr June McNicholas and Dr Glyn Collis, both from the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick, has for the first time tested the common assertion that pets were important to children. They found that over 90% of children saw their pet as being in their top ten most special relationships. The researchers also found that:
  • Pets appeared in the top 5 relationships for many of the children - above a substantial number of human relationships.
  • In some cases pets even came first above all human relationships - confiding secrets, comfort when ill.
  • Though pets were not as important a relationship for children as parents they were a valuable source of support, especially for comfort, self-esteem and sharing.
  • Child-pet relationships were characterised by affection, trust and an absence of conflict.

The research, to be published this month in the journal Child Care Health and Development as "Children's Representations of Pets in their Social Networks", also found that mothers were by far the top choice of children - closely followed by fathers. Amongst pets the family dog performed best - outshining many other relatives, and even teachers, as a source of support in some situations.

The two researchers tested a class of primary school children, aged 7-8, by outlining to them a series of stories depicting small children in difficult situations, ie ill in bed, being bullied in school, or having a special secret about a magic door at the bottom of their garden, They were then asked who or what would they turn to first about this situation, and who next if they were unavailable, and so on until each child's top five choices for each situation emerged.

The children displayed a reassuringly high degree of common sense when asked to make these choices. Thus no child said they would get their pets to help with something that, in reality, only a human could help them with. Mothers were the top choice for almost every situation. Fathers came close but mothers were considered much more appropriate for comfort when ill or when a child needed to a confide a secret.

For Further details contact:

Dr June McNicholas, Department of Psychology
Tel: 024 7652 3759 email:

Dr Glyn Collis, Tel: 024 7652 3182

Further information about the above press release and all other media services at the University of Warwick can be obtained from:

Peter Dunn, Press Officer
University of Warwick
Coventry, CV4 7AL
West Midlands
Tel: 024 76 523708