Pet ownership, dog types and attachment to pets in 9-10 year old children in Liverpool, UK

Carri Westgarth, Lynne M Boddy, Gareth Stratton, Alexander J German, Rosalind M Gaskell, Karen P Coyne, Peter Bundred, Sandra McCune, Susan Dawson
BMC Veterinary Research 2013, 9: 102

BACKGROUND: 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.

RESULTS: 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.

CONCLUSIONS: 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.

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