Previous research shows that companion animals can have a positive effect on their owner’s health and may also serve as a buffer to stress. Despite this, few studies have investigated the role of the pet in adverse or tumultuous family circumstances. In this study, we explored whether reported family conflict is associated with strength of attachment to companion animals. We analyzed a large sample of pet-owning primary caregivers of children (n = 1,421) to understand how family conflict and pet attachment may be associated. Primary caregivers were asked to report the frequency of instances of intrafamily criticism and discussion styles, as well as types of interactions with pets in the home to assess strength of attachment. Results from bivariate tests of association and ordinary least squares regression models indicated that there was a significant association between family conflict and strength of attachment to companion animals: as the amount of family conflict increased, so did the strength of attachment to the family pet. Family conflict remained a significant predictor of strength of pet attachment with the inclusion of sociodemographic control variables, which indicated that the association was not an indirect result of other correlations. These findings suggest that companion animals play an important role in the lives of family members who are experiencing adverse situations or chronic strain such as family conflict, and they underscore a need for further investigation into the role of the pet in the family. We draw implications for clinical practice and future research involving pets, children, and childhood family trauma.
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