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Did you know that the benefits of having a family pet go far beyond that warm fuzzy feeling we get when we cuddle them or giggle at their crazy antics?

It’s a proven fact that pet ownership is not only good for our emotional wellbeing, it also has important benefits for our physical health and social development too.   

The good news is that we Aussies are already a nation of pet lovers with more pets than people across this vast land - 29 million of them in fact!  Three in five households owns a pet and it’s no surprise that the most popular ‘fur babies’ pets are dogs (40%) followed by cats at 27%.

We know that our furry friends bring love and joy into our lives, but let’s look at some of the additional benefits of having a family pet.

For starters, a pet is much more than just a playmate for a child. 

Pets can offer a range of emotional benefits, helping a child to develop a positive self-image and boosting their self esteem and self-confidence.  A pet can also reduce a child’s feelings of loneliness, boredom, restlessness, anxiety and stress and if they suffer from separation anxiety when mum and dad aren’t at home, the companionship of a pet can provide a sense of stability and help the child to settle.

Every parent and caregiver knows how crucial a child’s emotional well-being is and a family pet can bring a lot of positive aspects to this area.  The unconditional, non-judgemental love that a child gets from a pet can help them feel valued and important and aid the development of a positive self-image.

Studies have also found that pet ownership brings important health benefits too.

Having a family dog leads to increased physical activity - and even if young children aren’t always taking the dog on ‘walkies’, they’re involved in healthy energetic play with their pet at home.   Researchers have also theorised that owning a pet may help build a child’s immune system and reduce the prevalence of allergies.  One study found that that ear infections and respiratory illnesses were less in children who lived with a dog or cat in the first year of life while another found that the more pets that a baby lives with, the less like they are to develop conditions such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.

The development of social skills is another key benefit of owning a family pet.

Children learn responsibility, compassion and empathy when there’s a family pet in the home, especially when they are encouraged to take some responsibility for the animal’s well-being.  These are important life-skills and a child who is involved in looking after a pet is more likely to treat other people with empathy and care and build better relationships.

And it’s because of all these important benefits associated with pet ownership that early learning centres like Treasured Tots in Mandurah, Bibra Lake and Fremantle have animals on their premises that the children are encouraged to care for.   As Treasured Tots in Fremantle notes on their FaceBook page: ‘Observing, interacting with and learning to care for animals can be a valuable part of a child’s education and care experience, enriching their learning’.

A dog may be man’s best friend, but a furry friend is one of the very best things we can offer our children to aid their physical, emotional and social development and well-being.

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