The prosocial behaviour of children without siblings may benefit most from having a pet, according to results from a longitudinal study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.
Data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children were analysed for children at ages five (N=4,242) and seven years (N=4,431). The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used, which measures five scales: emotional symptoms, peer problems, hyperactivity, conduct problems, and prosocial behaviour (sharing, helping, cooperating). Pet ownership status and type, sociodemographic and other confounders (single parent, couple, older or younger siblings, primary caregiver work status, household income, and mental health) were reviewed.
Overall, 27% of children had abnormal SDQ scores on ≥1 scale. By age seven, 75 per cent of children had pets, the highest ownership in single-child households. Owning a pet was associated with decreased odds of abnormal scores for emotional symptoms (odds ratio [OR] 0.81; 95% CI 0.67-0.99), peer problems (OR 0.71; 95% CI 0.60-0.84), prosocial behaviour (OR 0.70; 95% CI 0.38-0.70), compared with non-pet owners.
For only-children, only the prosocial behaviour scale was significantly associated with pet ownership (OR 0.21 95% CI 0.07-0.66).
Data was not collected on relationship and attachment to the pet. The findings may be country specific due to socioeconomic differences.