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Furry friends, happy hearts: the science behind the bonds between pets and children

Waltham Petcare Science Institute has published the results of a Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) research study that highlights the important role that dogs play in children’s lives.

While previous research has investigated the calming effects of dogs during stressful situations for children, this new study more closely mimicked the type of interactions that children experience with dogs in their daily lives.

Fifty-five children aged between eight and 10 and 54 dogs participated in the study by Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan et al. Over three visits, urine and saliva samples were collected from the child and dog before, during and after they interacted.

The results revealed that both the child’s and the dog’s salivary cortisol decreased after interacting and this effect was most potent for children strongly bonded to their dogs.

Off the back of the new study, Waltham suggests four fun ways kids can celebrate and boost their one-of-a-kind bonds with their best four-legged friends.


1. Chill-out time

From reading a book together to gentle grooming, spending quality time together can create a calming atmosphere and reduce stress for both kids and dogs.


2. New adventures

Previous studies conducted by the Waltham Petcare Science Institute have shown that young pet owners generally exhibit higher self-esteem, reduced feelings of loneliness, and improved social skills compared to adolescents who did not grow up with a pet. Pets are inclined to explore, making it beneficial for children to actively participate in outdoor activities with their furry companions, such as visiting local parks, playing fetch, or enjoying leisurely walks. Engaging in these shared experiences not only encourages physical activity but also fosters stronger bonds between children and their pets, ultimately contributing to their overall well-being.


3. Love language

The crucial role pets play in a child’s development was further explored through a University of Cambridge study, which highlighted the importance of communication. Findings indicated that children view their pet as a “safe place” for disclosure, similar to human relationships. Lead researcher Matt Cassells notes that “the fact that pets cannot understand or talk back may even be a benefit as it means they are completely non-judgmental”. Recognising that communication is key in any relationship, children can feel closer to their pets when supported to understand their pets' body language and cues. Adults can guide the interpretation of their companion’s emotions and needs, so kids can establish more meaningful interactions with their pets, whether it’s through body posture, facial expressions, behaviour around food and toys, and more.


4. Embracing responsibility

Owning a pet comes with responsibilities, and it is important for children to appreciate and embrace their role as caretakers. According to studies conducted by the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, kids develop essential skills by actively taking care of their pets. Lead author Rebecca Purewal highlighted the significance of pets as psychological support, helping them feel good about themselves and fostering a positive self-image. By engaging in pet care activities like feeding, grooming, and cleaning their pets’ living space, children are motivated to cultivate empathy and become more nurturing towards their pets’ well-being.

• See more on the study

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