If you’ve ever had a dog or cat, you know how quickly pets become a part of the family. In fact, officials in Alaska just gave judges approval to assign joint custody of pets in divorce settlements, The Washington Post reported.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Cambridge have examined the relationship that kids have with their pets. A new study published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology shows that children are often closer with their pet than their siblings, according to a press release from the University.

Read: Are Pets In The Bedroom A Problem For Sleep?

These finding are the result of a 10-year longitudinal study. Researchers worked with a group of 12-year-old children — 88 participants had pets at home. These kids were surveyed about their relationship with their pets and shared how much they confided in them and other details about the human-animal relationship.

The research team also received relevant input about the children’s behavior from participants’ parents, siblings, and teachers.

Children reported strong relationships with their pets when compared to closeness with their siblings. Additionally, when compared to other kinds of pets, kids with dogs reported overall lower levels of conflict and greater satisfaction.

Read: Cat Scratch Disease And Toxoplasmosis: Prevention Tips For Illnesses You Can Catch From Your Feline Pets

So, why do kids trust pets more than their own brother or sister? The study’s lead researcher Matt Cassels has a theory.

“They may feel that their pets are not judging them and since pets don’t appear to have their own problems they just listen. Even confiding in a journal can be therapeutic, but pets may be even better since they can be empathetic,” said Cassels, according to the press release.

Source: Cassels MT, White N, Gee Nancy, Hughes C. One of the family? Measuring early adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. 2017.

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