Largest-ever study of pets and kids' health finds no link

August 7, 2017

Contrary to popular belief, having a dog or cat in the home does not improve the mental or physical health of children, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

The findings are from the largest-ever study to explore the notion that pets can improve children's by increasing and improving young people's empathy skills.

Unlike earlier smaller studies on the topic, the RAND work used advanced statistical tools to control for multiple factors that could contribute to a child's wellbeing other than , such as belonging to a family that has higher income or living in a more affluent setting. The results are published online by the journal Anthrozoos.

"We could not find evidence that children from families with dogs or cats are better off either in terms of their mental wellbeing or their physical health," said Layla Parast, a co-author of the study and a statistician at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Everyone on the research team was surprised—we all have or grew up with dogs and cats. We had essentially assumed from our own personal experiences that there was a connection."

The study analyzed information from more than 2,200 children who lived in pet-owning households in California and compared them to about 3,000 households without a dog or cat. The information was collected as a part of the 2003 California Health Interview Survey, an annual survey that for one year also asked participants about whether they had pets, along with an array of other health questions.

Researchers did find that children from pet-owning families tended to have better general health, have slightly higher weight and were more likely to be physically active compared to children whose families did not have pets. In addition, children who had pets were more likely to have ADD/ADHD, were more likely to be obedient and were less likely to have parents concerned about their child's feelings, mood, behavior and learning ability.

But when researchers adjusted the findings to account for other variables that might be associated with both the likelihood that a family has a pet and the child's health, the association between pet ownership and better health disappeared. Overall, researchers considered more than 100 variables in adjusting their model of pet ownership and health, including family income, language skills and type of family housing.

While many previous studies have suggested a link between pet ownership and better emotional and , RAND researchers say their analysis has more credibility because it analyzed a larger sample than previous efforts.

Researchers say future research could examine associations involving pet ownership over longer periods of time and in more experimental settings.

The ultimate test of the pet-health hypothesis would require a randomized trial where some people are given pets and other are not, with the groups being followed for 10 to 15 years to see if there are differences in their health outcomes.

"Such a study would likely be too costly and/or infeasible to implement, and I'm afraid it's not likely to be funded by anybody," Parast said.

Explore further: Family pets boost child development

Related Stories

Family pets boost child development

March 7, 2017
Growing up with a pet can bring social, emotional and educational benefit to children and adolescents, according to a new University of Liverpool study. Youngsters with pets tend to have greater self-esteem, less loneliness, ...

Dog ownership benefits families of children with autism, researcher finds

April 14, 2014
Many families face the decision of whether to get a dog. For families of children with autism, the decision can be even more challenging. Now, a University of Missouri researcher has studied dog ownership decisions in families ...

Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with siblings

January 26, 2017
Children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their brothers or sisters, according to new research from the University of Cambridge. Children also appear to get on even better with their animal ...

Children with autism who live with pets are more assertive

December 30, 2014
Dogs and other pets play an important role in individuals' social lives, and they can act as catalysts for social interaction, previous research has shown. Although much media attention has focused on how dogs can improve ...

Study shows how children relate to their pets

June 14, 2013
In a study of more than 1,000 school children, scientists at the University of Liverpool have shown that the bond between a child and their pet is a significant part of growing up in families from a variety of social and ...

Children conceived using donor sperm have similar health and well-being to general population

July 12, 2017
Children conceived using donor sperm have similar health and well-being to the general population, according to a study published in Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.