Pet Ownership and Its Effect on Children
Updated: Aug 21, 2019
For many of us, owning a pet as a child changed our life for the better and left a lasting impact on us. I myself didn't own a dog or cat like most people. My family had a small aquarium filled with various fish for a few years, and I liked it at first, but quickly lost interest in them since I felt that there wasn't much you could do with pet fish. For the longest time I wanted a dog because I just loved how sweet, fun and loyal they were! Nevertheless, having a pet that you love and truly care for can have a positive effect on your well-being, as numerous studies have shown.
With adolescents, findings from a number of studies concluded that growing up with a pet is associated with higher self-esteem, cognitive development, and social skills, according to an article from Psychology Today. Although this topic is under ongoing research, authors of the studies found that pets may help reduce children's stress, provide social support and companionship, and improve their communication skills.
A separate, yet more controversial study from the RAND Corporation concluded that children raised in families with pets were reported as having better general health, being more obedient, being more physically active, etc. However, researchers of the study also found that many socioeconomic factors may have helped children raised in families with pets, as these kids were also found to be less likely on free school lunch programs, less likely to be from households that moved frequently, more likely to have English-speaking parents, etc.
The same authors of the RAND study examined the effects of pet ownership that remained after adjusting for a number of demographic and socioeconomic differences between homes with and without pets. They found that all differences between pet-owning and non-pet-owning kids disappeared when factors such as race, home ownership, parental health, and wealth were taken into account. In essence, kids with pets were better off than those without, but not because of their furry companion. It's because they're more likely to be well-off and not be part of a minority.
All this information is interesting to me because personally, my family wasn't well-off or prosperous in the typical sense. We didn't own a house, but we lived in a two-bedroom apartment that held the five of us. We weren't poor either, as my parents were still able to care for my siblings and I, and we were able to care for the fish aquarium for some time. But I'm not too sure if owning fish actually had an effect on me, given that I got bored of them after a while. Some socioeconomic factors mentioned in the article did affect my family's ability to own a pet also, as my parents couldn't afford the extra costs that came with owning your standard dog or cat. We even had to give away our aquarium down the line since it became too expensive for us. There was also the fact that having dog violated our lease, and there wasn't much room in our apartment for one in the end.
I do think there is a unique sense of joy in owning a pet you love deeply, and every child should have the opportunity to own one too. They can be a major source of support and loyalty, and at times provide an unconditional love that can't be compared to!