Childhood attachment to pets: associations between pet attachment, attitudes to animals, compassion, and humane behaviour

Roxanne D. Hawkins, Joanne M. Williams

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Attachment to pets has an important role in children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, mental health, well-being, and quality of life. This study examined associations between childhood attachment to pets and caring and friendship behaviour, compassion, and attitudes towards animals. This study also examined socio-demographic differences, particularly pet ownership and pet type. A self-report survey of over one thousand 7 to 12 year-olds in Scotland, UK, revealed that the majority of children are strongly attached to their pets, but attachment scores differ depending on pet type and child gender. Analysis revealed that attachment to pets is facilitated by compassion and caring and pet-directed friendship behaviours and that attachment to pets significantly predicts positive attitudes towards animals. The findings have implications for the promotion of prosocial and humane behaviour. Encouraging children to participate in pet care behaviour may promote attachment between children and their pet, which in turn may have a range of positive outcomes for both children (such as reduced aggression, better well-being, and quality of life) and pets (such as humane treatment). This study enhances our understanding of childhood pet attachment and has implications for humane education and promoting secure emotional attachments in childhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)490
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 6 May 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • attachment
  • attitudes
  • children
  • compassion
  • humane behaviour
  • pets
  • Attitudes


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