Children with pets may be less likely to suffer colds and infection, according to research from the University of Warwick. The saliva of 138 children was tested for an antibody that indicates immune system strength: the levels in kids with pets were significantly more stable. The group also averaged nine fewer sick days off school each year.

pro kids and pets

Exercise Companion

Young children who play with dogs are up to 50% less likely to be overweight or obese, suggests research from Deakin University, Melbourne. “Even incidental play with a dog helps keep the weight off,” says head researcher, Jo Salmon.

Intimacy

More than 90% of children list pets in their top ten most special relationships, says Dr June McNicholas, a psychologist from the University of Warwick who specialises in human-pet interaction. “In some cases, pets even came first, above all human relationships.” The children, aged seven and eight, said they confided in pets and turned to them for comfort when ill.

Empathy

Pets help children develop patience and problem-solving, says Maggie O’Haire from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology and Centre for Companion Animal Health. “A dog or cat won’t do what a child wants them to do all the time.” That, she says, teaches compromise. “Once a child considers an animal’s point of view, they tend to change their behaviour ... These lessons often translate to better communication with the people in a child’s life. Learning to communicate with a non-verbal other is also a great lesson in patience.”

Responsibility

“Pets introduce [children] to routine responsibility,” says O’Haire. “Caring for an animal may be one of the few outlets kids have to learn nurturing and care-giving skills.” This facility for care can translate to appropriate views on animal welfare as a whole.

“What a child considers to be acceptable treatment of farm animals or wildlife often reflects how they’d feel if those treatments were applied to their beloved family pet,” says Dr Paul McGreevy of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, and author of Handle with Care – Making Friends with Animals.

Better understanding of health and illness

A study by McNicholas found that children with pets have a better understanding of medical procedures. “The health treatment of a pet cat may be more thoroughly explained to them than any treatment they, or a close family member, may receive,” says McNicholas.

Kids with pets could also be better able to handle the concept of mortality. “The death of a pet can be a very sad event, but it is a way to teach kids important lessons about the life cycle,” adds O’Haire. “It ... can create space for meaningful discussions. ”

 

 

cons Kids and Pets

Allergies

US research found that children exposed to cats or dogs in the first year of life had a reduced risk of developing sensitivities to allergens, and possibly asthma. Although children who are genetically susceptible to developing allergies are probably better to have high exposure to pets. However, once children have allergies, avoiding pets that cause the symptoms is sensible.

MRSA infections

Roundworms are not the only organisms that get passed via pets. A Lancet study found that MRSA, a strain of “staph” bacteria usually found in hospitals, can also be carried and transmitted by cats and dogs. “A scratch or bite can transmit MRSA, but most transmission is probably through direct contact with a pet’s skin wound or secretions,” says Richard Oehler from the University of South Florida’s Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine. “Handwashing or waterless hand gels are the best [prevention].”

Bites

Emergency departments treat 250,000 dog bite injuries a year, and 60% of the most serious cases occur in children under ten. More than 60% of dog bites are from the family pet, or that of a friend, neighbour or relative.

Cost

Pets are expensive. On top of the purchase price, microchipping and de-sexing, there are food, vet and grooming bills. Sainsbury's pet insurance the average amount a family spends on pets each year is £1,413.

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