Pets are a huge part of family life in Australia. Far from being just a simple playmate, they also aid childhood development, teach children about responsibility, and help them learn nurturing skills by giving them something to care for other than themselves.

I’ve always been a fan of taking my dog with me whenever possible. Whether it’s an outing to visit a friend, a picnic in the park or a week away at the beach, my pets are part of my family, so I love to have them with me. I don’t like the stress of leaving them in the care of others, and I always miss them terribly, so taking them with me solves this problem! With a bit of careful preparation, and by following my tips, your whole family can enjoy a safe and healthy holiday. As a parent, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound and positive way pets have impacted my daughter’s life. The great news is that research backs up my own observations, revealing that children with pets are more popular with their peers, demonstrate increased empathy, have higher self-esteem, and are more positive. Children are also more likely to exercise and play outdoors if they have a dog. Let’s look at some of the known benefits in more detail.

Pets are a friend to children

Pets are great company, children will turn to their pets when they need a friend, a protector or they just feel like a cuddle & a chat. Kids often trust them with their secrets and private thoughts because pets don’t get angry or judge and they give unconditional love. In fact, studies have shown that children rate their pets as highly as immediate family, teachers, friends and childminders. In particular, dogs were found to often be more highly regarded than humans as a child’s ‘best friend’.

Pets aid childhood development

Pets can help children develop nurturing and social skills, as well as greater respect for animals. Developing positive feelings about pets can aid self-esteem and help children develop non-verbal communication and compassion.

Pets are a great antidote to increasing technology

A pet is a good reason to turn off the computer or video game and have a play or a cuddle.  An Australian study found around three quarters of 10 to 12-year-old children reported that they liked to play outside with pets – a figure that ranked second only to playing outside with friends.

Pets teach responsibility

By helping take care of a pet, kids learn about responsibility. Pets show them that all living beings require shelter, food, water, and companionship. Fish are a great first pet because it’s easy to give children an active role in feeding them. Dogs and cats may require more attention but caring for them together can provide an ideal opportunity for a parent and child to bond.

Pets may help to reduce allergies and asthma

Asthma and allergies are on the rise and pets are sometimes blamed. However, research in recent years has demonstrated the opposite may be true – the presence of cats and dogs in the home from an early age may actually ‘acclimatise’ the developing immune system so that it is less sensitive to allergens in later life.

Pets teach life lessons

Pets are often the first experience a child has with birth, death, and grieving. Pets also help kids to learn about health and illness with visits to the veterinarian which reinforce the importance of good health care.

Pets are fun and encourage exercise

Children can play safe games with their pets and with supervision, and they can help with tasks like washing the dog or brushing the cat. Obesity amongst children is on the increase, so parents are looking for ways to reduce sedentary behaviour and get their kids moving. Pets encourage activity and it’s well known that physical activity in children results in social, mental and physical health benefits.

Written by Dr Katrina Warren