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Pet Dogs and Children’s Health: Opportunities for Chronic Disease Prevention?


The US Public Health Service flyer, “Pets Promote Health,” contains the following information: Celebrate National Pet Week! Did you know that pet ownership has great benefits for your health? Fifty-six percent of US households own pets. Mental Well-Being: Companion animals improve mental and emotional well-being in humans; pet owners are less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression than non-pet owners; pet therapy improves a wide array of mental health disabilities, including anxiety, panic, post-traumatic stress, mood obsessive compulsive, and other disorders. Obesity Prevention: The National Institutes of Health found that dog owners who walk their dogs are significantly more likely to meet physical activity guidelines are less likely to be obese than non-dog owners or walkers; by providing motivation and social support, pets make it easier for owners to adopt long-term behavior changes that lead to weight loss and other positive health outcomes; Pet ownership is associated with key indicators of cardiovascular health such as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides. Tobacco Cessation: 28.4% of smokers said knowing the adverse impact of cigarette smoke on pet health would motivate them to stop smoking. Second hand smoke exposure is associated with certain cancers in cats and dogs, allergies in dogs, and eye, skin, and respiratory diseases in birds. The flyer concludes with the message, “National Pet Week is May 3–9, 2015. The flyer carries to logo of the US Public Health Service Veterinary Category.

Figure 1. US Public Health Service flyer, “Pets Promote Health,” describing benefits of pet ownership.

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The model illustrates how pet dogs influence play, caretaking, companionship, and social interaction. Play: provides opportunities for exploration, novel experiences, mastery, and independence and increases physical activity. Caretaking: promotes sense of responsibility and empathy, increases physical activity (eg, walking, grooming), allows for learning about animals. Companionship: promotes self-esteem, relieves stress, provides emotional support (pet dog can act as a confidante). Social interaction: catalyzes social interactions, stimulates verbal and nonverbal communication, and develops relationships.

Figure 2. Model for how pet dogs may influence the physical and mental health of children aged 4 to 10 years. The model summarizes study findings regarding how pet dogs promote children’s behavioral and emotional development, mental health (3,4, 11–13,30), and physical activity (6–10,26).

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