No Clear Health Benefits of Dogs and Cats for Children Interview with:

Layla Parast PhD Statistician RAND

Dr. Parast

Layla Parast PhD
RAND What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: This study examined the association between pet ownership, specifically dog or cat ownership, and children’s physical and mental health. There has been a lot of previous work looking at this association and these previous results seemed to show that kids with pets have better health than those without pets. The hypothesis has been that pets can improve children’s health by increasing physical activating and improving young people’s empathy skills.

We used data from over 5,000 households in California which was obtained from the California Health Interview Survey and looked at physical and mental health outcomes among children in households with pets vs. without pets.

We found that children in households with pets do have better health than those without pets, but that after we account for factors such as family income and housing type, for example, there is no evidence of an association between pet ownership and health. That is, households that have pets are more likely to be higher income, to be in a house as opposed to an apartment, and to have healthier adults in the household, for example – and these factors are also associated with better child health. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Of course, our findings don’t suggest that pets have no benefits. They do suggest that owning a pet does not have the large health benefit that other studies have suggested. Certainly, there are many other positive benefits of having a pet – pets bring joy and companionship. There are many other wonderful reasons to bring a pet into your life besides trying to improve your child’s health. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Some limitations of our study include our lack of information regarding the length of time the family owned the pet and information on long-term health outcomes of the children. We think that future research that aims to assess any potential effects on long-term health outcomes are warranted. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Our entire research team is very pet-friendly – we all either currently have pets or grew up with pets. We strongly encourage future research in this area to examine long-term health outcomes. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

A Propensity-Score-Weighted Population-Based Study of the Health Benefits of Dogs and Cats for Children
Jeremy N. V. Miles, Layla Parast, Susan H. Babey, Beth Ann Griffin & Jessica M. Saunders
Anthrozoös Vol. 30 , Iss. 3,2017

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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