Humans love their pets. The average amount that pet owners in the U.S. spend on their fuzzy friends each year has doubled to $38 billion over the past ten years, dwarfing the toy industry’s $23 billion annual haul. Dogs continue to top the list as America’s favorite pet, followed by cats, fish, and birds.
Pet ownership has positive effects on children. According to Gail F. Melson, PhD, four in 10 children begin life in a household that already has a pet. Up to 90 percent of all children live with a pet sometime during childhood, and numerous studies highlight the benefits of pet ownership on childhood development.
Consider the following:
- Children who are raised with pets develop such important values as empathy, responsibility, and compassion.
- Children who live with pets demonstrate higher levels of cooperation and sharing than those who do not.
- Pets can help children’s self-esteem, thanks to the pet’s loyalty and devotion. Struggling learners can especially reap these benefits because of the nonjudgmental nature of pets.
Beyond the social benefits, exposure to pets helps stimulate stronger immune systems in children. The medical journal Pediatrics reports that children who are exposed to pets in the first year of life have 31 percent fewer respiratory infections and 44 percent fewer ear infections than children who live in a pet-free home.
Pets can help build family bonds, but parents should be cautious when choosing a pet. Some children are allergic to certain animals (although only medical tests can determine if it’s a true allergy), and some pets’ temperaments aren’t suited to families’ needs. Thorough research of potential pets can help ensure that a pet will be a welcome addition to the family.