Here's why pets are good for your kids

PHOTO: AFP

The benefits of pet therapy for the ill and elderly are well known, and according to a new study, the advantages extend to children as well.

Research conducted by the University of Liverpool has found that growing up with pets can not only help reduce loneliness in children, the experience can also help them develop greater self-esteem and better social skills.

"Anyone that has grown up with, and loved a family pet intrinsically feels the value of their companionship," said Dr Carri Westgarth, project leader of the study.

Read also: How therapy dog helped girl with rare conditions believe in herself

Dr Westgarth carried out an in-depth review and quality evaluation of studies investigating the effects of pet ownership on emotional, educational or behavioural development in children and adolescents.

The impact of pet ownership on self-esteem appear to be greatest for children under six years old, pre-adolescents and adolescents over 10, lead author Rebecca Purewal said.

"Generally dogs and cats are deemed to be the best providers of social support, perhaps due to a higher level of interaction and reciprocation in comparison to other pets," she added.

Read also: Can pets make owners healthier?

Pets were found to act as a form of psychological support for youths, and helped them to feel good about themselves, thus enabling a positive self-image.

"The scientific evidence investigating the benefits to children and adolescent development looks promising. We dug deep into that evidence to understand which potential benefits were most strongly supported. Ultimately, this will enable us to know more about how pets provide young people with emotional, educational and social support," Dr Westgarth said.

Read also: Study says cat videos could be a positive form of therapy

Meet Australia's most exotic pets

  • The proud owner of dingo 'Kimba', James Bornstein, is part of the new wave of Australian exotic pet lovers whose unconventional companions are growing in popularity.
  • In a country known for its unusual wildlife, Bornstein says having a sub-species of the grey wolf in his Sydney home is an opportunity to change people's negative perceptions about the native wild dog and apex predator.
  • Ernie Chan, a breeder who has kept up to 130 reptiles, says shrinking homes and urbanisation has seen potential owners turn to smaller pets that require less maintenance.
  • "You don't need to take a snake for a walk," Chan says.
  • Everybody's had dogs and cats for so many years and it's kind of reptiles' time to shine."
  • According to the Australian Veterinary Association, exotic pets are becoming "more and more popular", with residents owning millions of birds, fish, small mammals and reptiles.
  • According to the Australian Veterinary Association, exotic pets are becoming "more and more popular", with residents owning millions of birds, fish, small mammals and reptiles.
  • Brooke Winters is another exotic pet convert in a nation famous for koalas, kangaroos and wombats.
  • "I just feel like people don't appreciate (reptiles) enough and treat them very differently just because they don't have fur."
  • 17 year-old Olivia Fitzer holding a stick insect at a pet store in Sydney.
  • Even so, welfare officials warn of backyard breeders or buying an animal that may have been grabbed from the wild.
  • Ann Harris playing with her pet Australian miniature pig "Coco" on her property on the outskirts of Sydney.
  • Four year-old Sammi Smith carrying Fideo, a three-year-old male albino ferret in her house on the outskirts of Sydney.
  • "Those animals can have really special needs and even if they have been bred in captivity, they are generally wild animals with long histories of living in particular environments," RSPCA Australia's Jane Speechley adds.
  • Katrina Smith holding one of her pet ferrets on her property on the outskirts of Sydney.

ljessica@sph.com.sg

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