Pets Help Social-Emotional Problems

Having pets at an early school age may protect children from social-emotional problems and may play an important role in their development, a recent study has found.

Drawing from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, the researchers recruited 5,107 children to the baby cohort (median age, 9 months) and 4,983 to the kindergarten cohort (median age, 4.75 years). Social-emotional development was assessed at ages 5 years (n=4,242) and 7 years (n=4,431) using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Pet ownership, as well as other sociodemographic characteristics, were evaluated as potential correlates.

More than half (64 percent) of the households in the baby cohort had pets; 45 percent owned dogs, 23 percent owned cats, and 25 percent had other types of pets. Similar figures were reported in the kindergarten cohort: 68 percent were pet owners, 43 percent had dogs, 27 percent had cats, and 11 percent owned another type of pet.

At 6–7 years of age, owning a pet decreased the risk of having abnormal emotional symptoms scores (odds ratio [OR], 0.81, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.67–0.99). This was driven mostly by cat ownership (OR, 0.68, 95 percent CI, 0.49–0.93). Dog ownership did not achieve significance (OR, 0.82, 95 percent CI, 0.66–1.02).

Having pets similarly cut the risk of abnormal peer problem scores (OR, 0.71, 95 percent CI, 0.60–0.84) and prosocial behaviour scores (OR, 0.70, 95 percent CI, 0.38–0.70).

On the other hand, pet ownership appeared to be a significant risk factor for abnormal hyperactivity scores (OR, 1.25, 95 percent CI, 1.04–1.50).