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.
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.
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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.