We've all seen those cute videos of toddlers and pets on the internet, watching as they play together and display genuine affection for one another. Their shared joy found in simple activities such as rolling around the floor can be a sight to behold. However, did you know that their connection goes beyond these viral moments and pets and toddlers have an incredible rate of attachment?
To figure out the factors driving this, Petplan looks at why pets and toddlers make the best of friends.
Toddlers are still very much in their early developmental stages, and whilst they are not on the same intellectual level as a dog or a cat, these simpler instinct-based behaviours present a communication gap that is easily bridged by small children.
Knowing when to play with a pet, or when to leave a pet alone, helps children to understand more complex relationships and these rudimentary signals are easily deciphered by children, allowing them to bond quickly with pets.
Additionally, children's enjoyment of simpler things, such as noise making toys, or different textures help them to bond much more quickly with pets. Adults are of course much less likely to find enjoyment in the same toys as pets, but toddlers share a lot of the same interests.
Furthermore, the games they can play with each other bring a much greater sense of enjoyment. Playing hide and seek, or simply chasing a dog for fun is a much easier concept for a small child to grasp and is unlikely to get old. Toddlers are still operating very much on their baser instincts, much like their pets, and together they make excellent friends.
Behavioural research from Cambridge University found that for most children, their best friend is their pet, as opposed to any siblings they may have. Children are believed to gain more emotional satisfaction from their relationships with their pets, which could indicate why we see pets and toddlers becoming so friendly with each other.
In the study, Matt Cassells, a Gates Cambridge scholar in the Department of Psychiatry, said: "Anyone who has loved a childhood pet knows that we turn to them for companionship and disclosure, just like relationships between people."
"Even though pets may not fully understand or respond verbally, the level of disclosure to pets was no less than to siblings."
He added: "The fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental."
It seems that this ability to form strong relationships with pets, due to their therapeutic properties, allows children to develop empathy from a young age and see their pet as a confidante.
It's often said that familiarity breeds contempt and perhaps this is one reason many kids turn to their pets for comfort. The Cambridge study found that there were lower levels of aggression and competition between kids and animals than with their siblings.
Anyone with an older brother or younger sister will tell you how competitive things can sometimes get. Pets represent a difference to this, they are empathetic enough to respond to the child's emotions but not similar enough to represent a form of competition.
The relationships between small children and pets are something that we seem to understand more and more each year, with new research such as those above continuing to reveal new insights about the positive effects of these friendships. If you have any stories of small children and pets becoming fast friends, let us know in the comments below.