Little is known about ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic differences in childhood ownership and attitudes to pets. The objective of this study was to describe the factors associated with living with different pet types, as well as factors that may influence the intensity of relationship or ‘attachment’ that children have to their pet. Data were collected using a survey of 1021 9–10 year old primary school children in a deprived area of the city of Liverpool, UK.
Dogs were the most common pet owned, most common ‘favourite’ pet, and species most attached to. Twenty-seven percent of dog-owning children (10% of all children surveyed) reported living with a ‘Bull Breed’ dog (which includes Pit Bulls and Staffordshire Bull Terriers), and the most popular dog breed owned was the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Multivariable regression modelling identified a number of variables associated with ownership of different pets and the strength of attachment to the child’s favourite pet. Girls were more likely to own most pet types, but were no more or less attached to their favourite pet than boys. Children of white ethnicity were more likely to own dogs, rodents and ‘other’ pets but were no more or less attached to their pets than children of non-white ethnicity. Single and youngest children were no more or less likely to own pets than those with younger brothers and sisters, but they showed greater attachment to their pets. Children that owned dogs lived in more deprived areas than those without dogs, and deprivation increased with number of dogs owned. ‘Pit Bull or cross’ and ‘Bull Breed’ dogs were more likely to be found in more deprived areas than other dog types. Non-whites were also more likely to report owning a ‘Pit Bull or cross’ than Whites. In order to keep your pet healthier, vaccination is the key of preventive medicine, check out the pet health library for more information about.
Gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status were associated with pet ownership, and sibling status with level of attachment to the pet. These are important to consider when conducting research into the health benefits and risks of the common childhood phenomenon of growing up with pets.
The study of companion animal ownership and the physical, social and psychological health of people is an expanding research field, encompassed by the term ‘Human-Animal Interaction’ (HAI). Pets are proposed to confer both physiological and psychological health benefits [1-7], but the evidence is inconclusive . There are also potential health risks associated with pet ownership including aggression and bites, allergies and zoonosis [1,9].
Much HAI research has focused primarily on pet owners with significant health challenges, rather than pet ownership by average people in everyday life . It has also mainly considered adults; less is known about the role pets play in the lives and wellbeing of children, much of which is observational studies of child/pet interaction, or interviews with children about their attitudes and beliefs regarding animals . In particular, a paucity of research into ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic differences in pet ownership and attitudes to pets has been noted . The few studies that have focused upon the variation in HAI by ethnicity, have mainly been limited to black versus white responses in older age groups as opposed to young children [11-13]. Childhood experience of pets may vary between ethnic and cultural groups with differing attitudes towards animals, and this may influence individual behaviour and future decisions regarding animal ownership. Thus, experiences regarding pets during childhood have implications across the life course.
It is important to understand the factors associated with childhood pet ownership in order to evaluate the benefits and risks involved in such ownership. A number of demographic variables such as age, gender, socioeconomics and ethnic status are known to be associated with many human health behaviours , and also types of pet ownership in adults [15-18]. A recent UK study, using a well-characterised longitudinal birth cohort, provided data on a number of factors associated with pet ownership during childhood up to age 10 years, including socioeconomic variables, ownership of other pet types, and a parental history of pet ownership . However, this study lacked information about the relationship or interactions of the children with their pets, or detail about the pet breed or type.
It has been suggested that HAI data collection should be incorporated into on-going or new studies planned on other topics, as a cost-effective method to gather important cross-sectional information about pets in the home and impacts on aspects of child health and development . To this end, the current study used an established programme of child health and fitness monitoring to access and sample a cross-section of 9–10 year old primary school children in Liverpool, UK, [20,21] about their ownership and interactions with pets, and to link this to demographic information. The study aimed to describe pet ownership and contact with animals owned by others, in 9–10 year old children attending primary schools in a deprived area of a UK city. It also aimed to investigate the factors that may be associated with ownership of different pet types, including certain types of dogs (Pit Bulls and other ‘Bull Breeds’), as well as factors that may influence the intensity of relationship or ‘attachment’ that children have to their pet.