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, published online by the journal Anthrozoos, are from the largest-ever study to explore the belief that pets can improve children’s health by increasing physical activity and strengthen young people’s empathy skills.
“We could not find evidence that children from families with dogs or cats are better off either in terms of their mental well-being 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 many 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 Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and were more likely to be obedient and 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…