Children and pets

Fred was first owned by my parents when they worked in the northern part of Western Australia, tracking and studying dingoes. They tell stories of Fred chasing a kangaroo in their ute while they were trawling the bush.

Like primary school kids playing kiss-chasey, I doubt Fred knew exactly what to say if he had caught one.

Fred was a great companion for my parents through their early marriage. By the time they became parents, it was clear that Fred was an important member of the family. ).

Fred was a very sickly dog when I was around eight years old. It was obvious that Fred’s life was miserable. I remember that day he was going to be put down. This was a great learning experience. We were sad to see our hairy friend go. He loved to be rubbed, and we loved to pat him. It was a huge learning experience to know that this furry, slobbering friend who loved to be patted (and whom we just loved to pat!) would not be at home when we got home from school.

Around a year after that, we adopted a playful blue heeler who was soon dubbed Waggy. (Lesson: don’t let 9-year-olds name animals). Waggy was a great dog. He was a great companion, capable of fetching our cricket balls as well as waiting by our ankles to be cuddled.


You can see my direction. I’ll end the pet chronology here before I get too creepy (you’re fortunate I didn’t tell you about Mosey, the neurotic kelpie).

A staggering 63% of Australian households keep some animal as a companion (this number does not include hairy teens/husbands). Pet owners are by far the majority.

It is easy to see the advantages and disadvantages associated with owning pets. Pets can be a great companion, but they also cost a lot, take a lot of time, and are prone to chewing up your expensive shoes.

Over the last few decades, people have been interested in finding out if pets can provide additional health benefits to humans.

Children and pets are a good combination. 

In 1980, the first study was conducted to examine the survival rates of heart attack victims. In the 1980 study, only 6% out of 92 heart attack victims survived at least one year. This is a shocking finding and makes me think that no pet owners had their shoes gnawed during their recovery years.

This study sparked a lot of interest in whether petting dogs, cats, and tropical fish, or even stroking boa constrictors, could have health benefits. The answer to all of these is yes, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure. Harold Herzog produced a nice summary of the studies.

The most rigorous study I have conducted in this field, and the one that I find the most interesting, is a clinical trial that examined the effects of pet ownership on 48 stockbrokers who had high blood pressure. After enrolling in the study, half the stockbrokers received a cat or dog as a pet, while the other half did not receive a pet.

The stockbrokers were brought back to the lab six months later for more testing. They were put in a stressful environment (asked to make an impromptu presentation). Stockbrokers with pets who spent six months together showed lower blood pressure increases during stressful situations (a good thing!). The stockbrokers who were not assigned a pet showed a lower increase in blood pressure during the stressful situation (which is incredibly good!). Another shocking finding.

Before we run out and buy a bunch of kittens to decorate Wall St., I am afraid to say there are studies that show no benefits from pet ownership, or worse, a negative effect.

A 2010 Study found that pets are not the best way to heal heart attack victims. Instead, they can be a curse. Pet-owners had a higher likelihood of dying or being readmitted to a hospital for heart problems within one year after their heart attack (22 vs. 14%).

Cat owners are at the highest risk of death or readmission. 27% do not fare well in the first year following a heart attack.

It is clear that the science of adult health has not been settled. I encourage you to treat these findings with caution. These results shouldn’t make the tabby feel too anxious.

Child Development and Pets

What about child development? Can pets influence a child’s emotional and cognitive development?

There is some logic in the idea that pets would benefit children. Pets provide companionship, help teach children responsibility, and encourage them to live an active life; very few people would disagree that this is a good thing.

I searched for studies on this topic and was surprised that so few had been done.

The largest study was the Croatian, which looked at the behaviours and attitudes of 826 children in primary school. Children with pets at home are more likely to show prosocial and empathic behaviours (altruistic) at school than children without pets. It was interesting to note that the children who said they were ‘closely attached’ to their pet at home, showed the most altruistic behaviours in school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *