A Propensity-Score-Weighted Population-Based Study of the Health Benefits of Dogs and Cats for Children

Published in: Anthrozoos, Volume 30, Number 3 (August 2017), pages 429-440. doi: 10.1080/08927936.2017.1335103

Posted on RAND.org on August 29, 2017

by Jeremy N. V. Miles, Layla Parast, Susan H. Babey, Beth Ann Griffin, Jessica Saunders

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There is a widely held belief that children's general and psychological health benefits from owning and/or interacting with pets. In our study, we aimed to determine whether children who live with a dog or cat in their home have better mental and physical health outcomes compared with children without such a pet. Our study design consisted of a secondary analysis of household survey data from the 2003 California Health Interview Survey. Children in pet-owning households (n = 2,236 households with a dog or cat) were compared with children in non-pet owning households (n = 2,955 households) using a weighted propensity score regression approach. Double robust regression analyses were used to examine the association between living with a dog or cat and health outcomes, while accounting for confounding factors. Our results demonstrated strong confounding effects. Unadjusted analyses found that children in pet-owning households were significantly healthier than children in non-owning households in terms of, for example, better general health, higher activity level, and less concern from parents regarding mood, behavior, and learning ability. However, when estimates were adjusted using the double robust approach, the effects were smaller and no longer statistically significant. The results indicate that the benefits of owning pets observed in this study were largely explained by confounding factors.

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