General Health and Immunity
Having pets in the home has been linked to enhancements in general immune function in children, including reductions in respiratory infections, ear infections1 and gastroenteritis.2
Physical Activity and Healthy Bodyweight Management
Dog ownership has been associated with increases in physical activity in children in the UK and in Australia3,4,5. Children from dog owning households are more physically active6 and young children (5-6 year olds but not 10-12 year olds) from families with dogs were less likely to be overweight or obese in one study7. Children who are more attached to their dogs tend to have higher levels of physical activity than those who are not as attached to their dogs8. This result, and many others, suggests that we reap more benefits of pet ownership if we are more invested in the pet.
A study conducted on 1097 primary and secondary school children in Australia reported that one third of primary school children and one quarter of secondary school children reported that they walked their dog at least once last week9. These students also commonly reported playing with the dogs and were significantly more likely to meet national physical activity recommendations than students how reporting these activities. The authors suggest promoting these activities as a way of supporting child health.
Interacting with a dog also increases physical activity as seen by more active movement in physical games played by obese 8-12-year-old children in the presence of a dog10. It’s possible that the dog increases the child’s motivation for the game. Another study, in the UK, focused on children aged 9-10 years showed increased physical activity in a dog intervention11 when compared to the control group.
Allergies and Asthma
Childhood exposure to two or more dogs or cats appears to decrease the likelihood of developing certain kinds of allergic reactions later in life12. Studies looking at the effects of exposure to pets in early childhood have found protective effects against the later development of both allergies and asthma13-16.