Childhood attachment to pets: links between attachment, compassion and humane behaviour

Roxanne Hawkins, Joanne Williams

Research output: Contribution to conferencePresentation


Attachment to pets is a fundamental mechanism underpinning child-animal interactions and relationships. Strong attachment to pets is related to higher quality of life and humane treatment of animals, but weak attachment to pets is associated with psychopathology and animal cruelty and neglect. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of attachment in positive and negative child-pet relationships and to examine sociodemographic differences in childhood attachment to pets.

An age-appropriate questionnaire-based survey, comprising of a variety of measures relating to childanimal relationships including the Short Attachment to Pets (SAPS) for children measure, was administered to primary school children during class time by school teachers. A total of 1,217 (51% boys, 49% girls) children in two year groups (average age 8 and 10 years) from 24 schools across Scotland participated.

The majority of children scored highly on attachment to pets. Linear regression showed that high attachment scores significantly predicted more reported humane behaviour towards animals (p=.000) and more positive attitudes towards animals (p=.000). Strong attachment to pets was significantly predicted by higher compassion towards animals (p=.000), emotional attachment behaviour (p=.000) and caring behaviour
(p=.000). Low attachment to pets was significantly predicted by higher acceptance of animal cruelty (p=.000). Children with pets, particularly those with pet dogs and those with a pet of their own, displayed stronger attachment to pets. No age differences in attachment to pets was found. There were also no differences between urban and rural children.

Children are highly emotionally attached to their pets. Pet attachment predicts positive behaviour towards animals, while low attachment to pets was more related to acceptance of cruelty. Further research on attachment to pets and the role it plays in children’s social development is required.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes
Event18th European Conference on Developmental Psychology - Utrecht, Netherlands
Duration: 29 Aug 20171 Sep 2017 (Conference website.)


Conference18th European Conference on Developmental Psychology
Internet address


  • Attachment
  • Animals
  • Children
  • Compassion
  • Pets
  • Human-animal interactions
  • Psychology


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