The social, developmental and emotional advantages of raising pets

The social, developmental and emotional advantages of raising pets

A cool little article from Australia, from 02/2020, published on the Journal of Pediatrics (PMID 32093993).

Introduction – Raising pets has been associated with physical, mental and social advantages in children and adults. In adults, this type of relationship has been proven to reduce morbidity such as heart attacks, to enhance a sense of community and social connections. In children – encouraging physical activity, independence and causing fewer allergies.
In children a few advantages were also proven, such as high sense of self-esteem, autonomy, and trust, social behaviors (sharing, caring, etc.), empathy and a lower sense of loneliness. However, most studies up to now were with a small sample size and with many methodological problems.
The purpose of this study was to find a connection between children’s exposer to pets and these developmental, social and emotional issues.
Methods – Data was obtained from another prospective Australian study, with data on children from 2004. The study included two populations, one of infants at an average age of 9 months (5107 patients), and another older population of children at an average of 4.75 years (4982 patients). This is a representative sample of Australian population. Data on pet holding and treatment was gathered on 2010, from the group of those who were infants on 2004, and from the other group on 2006.
Behavioral assessment was done using a validated questioner, with parents answering questions regarding their children. This questionnaire evaluated 5 different domains: emotional problems, relationship, sociality, hyperactivity and behavioral disorders.
Simultaneously, information was obtained about owning a pet – whether there is or there isn’t one, since when, and which kind.

Results – The study population included half boys and half girls. Most children (91%) had siblings, 82% of families were with two parents. Prevalence of pet owning was higher as children were older, but in the age 6-7 in both groups, 75% of children owned a pet. Out of those – 51.2% had a dog, 22.4% had a cat, 11.6% had both, and the rest had other pet (we are talking about Australia here…)
In households with younger sibling, pet prevalence was lower, and in households with an only child prevalence was higher.
In children of 6-7 years of age, in both study population, pet owning was correlated with:
A lower chance for emotional difficulties. This correlation was even higher with children who had a cat.
Relationship – with every kind of pet, children had fewer problems in this department.
Sociality – children with pets received higher ranking.
Hyperactivity – was more prevalent in children with pets, especially with owning a cat.
Behavioral disorders – no statistical significance between both groups.
In children with no siblings, only sociality was higher in pet owning children comparing with children with no pets.
Discussion – Interesting findings, with a significant conclusion. In the article itself there is a whole discussion on the meaning of each part of the questionnaire. For example, why sociality was correlated more with children with no siblings? Could be because in these families there are fewer opportunities to learn these behaviors.
You can see that about half of households did not own a pet when children were 4-5 years old, with a change for the better in 6-7 years old children.
In addition, most houses had a pet, similar to information from other studies and countries, suggesting that parents (as well as society) are aware of the important role of pets in the family’s dynamics and for the child’s development.
About the negative effect, supposedly found on hyperactivity in children with pets, the authors specify that this correlation was never observed and that there may be a demographic bias of such sort. For example, the author suggests a possibility, in which some family adopted a pet to help deal with hyperactivity. It is worth mentioning that in previous, smaller papers on this matter, a positive correlation with children was found in the domain as well.
What is missing according to the authors? The fact that there wasn’t an assessment on the involvement of the child in taking care of the pet and the extant of the connection with it. In addition, this is a study done in Australia, which has its own characteristics. Even when comparing to the rest of the modern, western world.

In conclusion, Freud said that it is never too late to experience a happy childhood.
So I turn to you with the recommendation of adopting a pet, your household will benefit from that.

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