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Companion animals and child/adolescent development: A systematic review of the evidence

Summary


Pet ownership may be beneficial to child and adolescent emotional, cognitive, behavioral, educational and social development

The purpose of this systematic literature review was to determine the evidence base for the impact of pet ownership and pet attachment on child and adolescent development. The study focused specially on potential associations between pet ownership and child/youth emotional, behavioral, cognitive, educational, and social developmental outcomes.

Twenty-two studies, published between 1960 and 2016, met a broad set of selection criteria and were included in this review. Studies focusing on Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), therapy and classroom animals, pets and their effect on physical health or ethical and moral development were not included.

Nineteen of the twenty-two studies focused on children’s emotional health. While a wide range of emotional health benefits were identified, the strongest evidence supported positive impacts in the areas of self-esteem and loneliness. Findings relating to self-esteem indicate that there may be critical ages for the impact of pet ownership, with the greatest influence found in children under 6 and over 10 years old. Although dog ownership was found to be helpful in preventing separation and social anxiety, findings relating to general anxiety and depression were inconclusive. Evidence for positive behavioral outcomes was also mixed. Evidence from some studies suggested that behavior improves when families first acquire a dog, but that after some time, the behavior of children with dogs doesn’t differ from the behavior of children without dogs. Studies focusing on educational and cognitive development found benefits in the areas of language development, perspective-taking, flexible problem solving, decision-making and motivation for learning. Pet ownership also seemed to aid the learning process in two sub-categories: (a) developing empathy and emotions; and (b) being good at school-related tasks. Studies focusing on social development found related benefits in the areas of social competence, social networks, social interaction, and social play behavior.

The overall findings of this review suggest that pet ownership — and dog ownership in particular — may be beneficial to child and adolescent emotional, cognitive, behavioral, educational and social development. The current evidence, however, does not permit firm conclusions, as the evidence is based on a broad range of different methodological approaches and varying quality of studies. Recommendations are offered for future high quality and longitudinal studies to help advance the field of child development and Human-Animal Interactions (HAI) research.

Citation

Purewal, R., Christley, R., Kordas, K., Joinson, C,, Meints, K., Gee, N,, Westgarth, C., (2017). Companion animals and child/adolescent development: A systematic review of the evidence. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(3)

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