Kids are a handful and so are pets, so it seems pretty crazy to combine the two together in your household, doesn't it? Well, research shows that having pets can actually have an extremely positive effect on your children’s health!
Interestingly, research has been conducted to evaluate the effect of having a pet on children’s health and wellbeing. It has found that children raised in a pet-owning family benefit from better general and physical health, and have fewer behavioural problems.
While it's good to have replicable evidence for such claims, these results are hardly controversial; Pet therapy is an increasingly common treatment, whereby people stroke, interact and play with animals as a form of stress relief. This provably causes the release of endorphins - one of the four “happiness hormones” - in the brain, which lower stress and anxiety. Vet Times recently posted an article mentioning two studies that further confirmed the benefit of having pets on children’s stress levels and quality of life.
Owning pets have more straightforward positive effects on mental, emotional and physical health, though. Pets promote a more active lifestyle, better cardiac health, and help children develop immunities. Dogs, in particular, need to be exercised, and giving your child that responsibility on a family stroll will increase the amount of exercise both you and they get. One study found that children with dogs get an extra 11 minutes of exercise and 357 more steps per day, in comparison to children without dogs. The endorphins released from interacting with animals not only increase happiness levels, but also lower blood pressure, which makes it beneficial in both the short-term and the long term. Combined with the increase in exercise, this will lead to your child having a healthier heart. Another study showed that children with dogs had fewer respiratory tract infections and ear infections, and also needed fewer courses of antibiotics.
Social anxiety can be a problem, especially during the teenage years. It is not uncommon for strangers to stop and say “hey!” to a dog and its owner on the street, which encourages your child to speak to more people, with the support of their pet by their side. A pet will also teach your child to be more mature and responsible. Taking care of an animal and prioritising your pet’s needs is not an easy job. Of course, you can’t expect your child to be the sole caretaker of your pet, but taking part in small jobs, such as taking your dog out for a short walk or cleaning your cat’s litter tray, will instil your child with traits of maturity and reliability.
Pets can even improve your child’s cognitive abilities. A 2011 study compared two groups of second-graders – one group read aloud to a dog for 30 minutes, once a week, and the other read aloud to a person. Progress was measured in change in “words-per-minute” reading rate over five weeks. The study found that the reading rates of children who read to the dog, whereas the reading rates of those reading to the human actually decreased. The theory behind this is that the dogs provided a nicer and less judgmental environment for the children to learn in. The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, part of Mars Petcare, found that companion animals “have the potential to promote healthy child and adolescent development”.
…So, where does Felcana come into this?
Felcana’s digital pet health centre will allow your family to access your pet’s health and activity trends in the comfort of their own home on an easily downloadable app. Using the app will enable children to closely monitor their pet’s health themselves and take actions when needed, supporting them to act responsibly and understand their pet more. Felcana's goal is not just to help pets, but also their owners, and we want to encourage your child to take more interest in their pet’s health. Connecting children with pets through Felcana will act to educate them on how to best look after their pets and even do some more research on animal health conditions themselves.
This blog was written by Melody Winterhalter from the Royal Veterinary College 11/06/2018.