As a parent, you may not have the time or money to add a cat or dog to your family. You may not even be an animal lover yourself. It’s hard to not feel guilty when the kids are begging for a pet but you just can’t bring yourself to make the commitment. You may want to reconsider though…
According to new research, it is not uncommon to lean towards not wanting a family pet, however, the value of household pets to children as well as adults is well documented in numerous research studies and books. For example, ‘The Powerful Bond Between Pets and People’, a book written in 2008, notes that when children and animals get together, it creates a kind of magic that even has healing properties.
Nevertheless the new study indicates that it is the characteristics linked with owning a pet, rather than the act of owning the pet itself, that lead to the conclusion that kids who grow up with a cat or dog are mentally and physically healthier.
The researchers examined household survey data gleaned from the annual California Health Interview Survey of 2003. This survey was the only one that included questions related to pet ownership.
The researchers compared data related to children in 2,200 pet-keeping families against those in 3,000 families that did not own a cat or dog. Like earlier studies have found, kids in pet-keeping families were a lot healthier than those in families without a pet-on the face of it at least. The kids were more energetic and showed better overall health. In addition, their parents were less worried about their behavior, mood and learning capability.
Then again, with the help of complex statistical tools, the scientists controlled for over a hundred other factors that could add to a child’s welfare, including language skills and a higher family income.
They noticed that grownups who owned a cat or dog were considerably less likely to have a child who got free or reduced lunch at their school. Mature pet owners also incurred more costs for housing and put in more hours at work per week than those who did not own pets. Furthermore, they were more likely to reside in a house instead of a mobile home, duplex or apartment.
After the scientists took into account all other differences between those who owned pets and those who did not, the effect of having a cat or dog in the household disappeared. To put it another way, individuals whose socioeconomic status is higher are more likely to keep a pet. But their children’s better health is attributable to their higher economic status, not their pet ownership.
In their published report, the scientists concluded that because they failed to find the effect of pet ownership in that population, statements that proclaim the benefits of pet ownership for kids are at the most premature and should be classified as unsubstantiated hypothesis. The report was published in the Anthrozoos journal that deals with how people and animals interact.
Layla Parast, a co-author of the research study, stated that she and members of her team, each of whom is a past or current pet owner, had hoped that their study would back up the conventional wisdom about the health-related benefits of owning a pet. Parast added that they were surprised that they could not find this causal association.
But the researchers acknowledged the limitations of the study. For instance, they did not have information regarding the length of time that the families had owned a cat or dog. The scientists said that the true test of whether owning a pet caused improvement in health could be a study where one group of people was randomly given pets while another one was denied. The two groups were then monitored for ten years or more to find out if one group became healthier than the other. But naturally it might be hard to enlist people for such a study, and it may also be extremely expensive.
In conclusion, Parast noted that even though cats and dogs do not improve the health of children, they definitely provide happiness and companionship and have been known to reduce stress and anxiety. This is why highly-trained dogs are used as service animals for patients with anxiety disorders or PTSD.
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