Study says that cats and dogs do not benefit the health of children in the home

This is a surprising result but I am referring to one study and it goes without saying that we should be cautious about jumping to firm conclusions from one scientific study. That said, a study published on the Taylor & Francis Online website, dated 03 Aug 2017 and titled: “A propensity-score-weighted population-based study of the health benefits of dogs and cats for children”, concluded with the sentence in their abstract, “The results indicate that the benefits of owning pets observed in this study were largely explained by confounding factors”.

What this means is that the study found that children in pet-owning households were significantly healthier than children in non-owning households in terms of better general health, higher activity levels, mood, behaviour and learning ability but that they could not put these improvements down to the presence of domestic dogs and cats.

Extraordinary photo of cat surrounded by children
Extraordinary photo of cat surrounded by children. Credit: I don’t know who the photographer is.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

They said that in their study the results “demonstrated strong confounding effects”. So, when these confounding effects were taken into account, they nullified the clear benefits in health and behaviour which might have been linked to the presence of cats and dogs in the home.

I am reading the abstract which is a summary and therefore I don’t know what these confounding effects are but common-sense dictates that they must be such important factors as the quality of parenting, whether there are visits from health workers, whether the children attended nursery, the financial constraints of the family i.e. the amount of money that the family had to raise their children, the quality of the home in which the children live and whether there is a lot of outside space where they can play safely and interact with nature. I have simply dreamt up some possibilities which are obvious.

The general consensus – and I think you will see this across the board on Internet – is that domestic dogs and cats improve the health and welfare of children. But this study concludes differently. There is one thing which I think is worth mentioning before I sign off on this short post which is that it has been decided that in terms of developing a good immune system and reducing allergic responses to allergens in the environment, young children closely interacting with cats and dogs and even sleeping with them is beneficial. It’s creates a more robust child without an exaggerated response to allergens. At one time people thought that it was dangerous for babies and toddlers to sleep with cats and dogs but, as I recall, the general mood now amongst the professionals is that it is beneficial.

And although not directly related to a child’s health, when a young, developing child is able to interact with a cat or dog, they are far more likely to learn to love animals barring upsetting accidents which can be avoided through good parental supervision. And the world needs this love of animals in the young of the day because going forward it hopefully results in improvements in animal welfare across the board.

It probably goes without saying too that there is and always has been a pressing need to improve animal welfare. In general, people still fall short in their treatment of animals both domestic and wild.

Note: The study compared 2,236 households where there was a dog or cat with 2,955 children in non-pet owning households.


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