New US research has found that the number of pets you have as a child could influence your eating habits in adulthood, with those who grow up around animals more likely to be vegetarian when they are older.
Carried out by researchers at the University at Albany, the study looked at 325 men and women with a mean age of 30 years and asked the participants about the number and types of pets they had as children.
Participants were also asked about their relationships with their pets, including how often they were responsible for caring for them, how close they felt to them, and about their beliefs and attitudes towards use of animals in food, clothing and research.
The researchers also asked the participants if they followed any vegetarian diet, including “flexitarian” (mostly vegetarian, but sometimes eats meat), “semi-vegetarian” (eats some types of meat but refrains from others), “pescetarian” (eats fish, eggs and dairy but refrains from other meat products), “lacto-ovo-vegetarian” (eats eggs and dairy, but refrains from all animal flesh), “vegan” (no animal products whatsoever), and “raw vegan” (consumes exclusively uncooked non-animal products).
Results showed that those with pets in childhood were significantly more likely to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet as an adult compared to those who didn’t have pets as children.
In addition, those with a larger variety of pets during childhood, such as hamsters, dogs and cats as opposed to just dogs, were more likely to avoid a wider range of animal products than those who owned fewer pets, reporting stronger opinions on animal exploitation which led to consuming less animal products.
Having a close relationship to childhood pets was also a strong predictor that participants would refrain from animal products as an adult.
“It seems as though individuals who had different types of pets more easily empathize with farmed animals or those used in research,” said study co-author Sydney Heiss. “For example, someone who had only a dog may have difficulty feeling empathy for a cow, whereas someone who grew up with farm animals may be more attuned to characteristics that are shared across all species and therefore, better able to empathize with all animals.”
Although previous research has suggested that those who own a pet during childhood are more likely to be vegetarian in adulthood, co-author Julia Hormes pointed out that the new study revealed another important influencing factor.
“Past research has suggested that closeness to a childhood pet is the key factor that predicts increased empathy and vegetarianism in adulthood. Our findings suggest that there may be more than one pathway to vegetarianism in adulthood — the number of pets in childhood, ethical concerns towards animal use, and level of vegetarianism is significant.”
The results can be found published online in the journal Appetite.