AR-News: (UK) Children thrive with a pet pal in the family

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Mon Oct 13 21:28:03 EDT 2003

By Celia Hall, Medical Editor
(Filed: 14/10/2003) 

The spirits of Tom Kitten, Mrs Tiggywinkle and Jemima Puddleduck live on. New 
research has found that one child in five plays dressing up with the family 
pet while one in 10, especially young girls, push their pets around in prams.
The survey also found that contemporary culture had an impact on children's 
activities with their pets. More than half, 53 per cent, watched television or 
videos with their favourite animal.
A total of 176 pet-owning families took part in the survey. They had between 
them 338 children, 129 dogs, 94 cats, 22 fish, 30 assorted mice, rats, gerbils 
and hamsters, 35 rabbits, 18 guinea pigs, seven reptiles, 17 birds in cages, 
one pony and six groups of poultry.
Nearly half the children went to their pet if they were bored or upset and a 
third sought out their pet, in this case mostly a dog, if they felt scared. A 
third went to their pet if they felt poorly, 85 per cent used their pet as a 
playmate and 37 per cent had their pet beside them when they were reading or 
doing their homework.
The survey, to be released today at the conference of the Society for 
Companion Animals, also looked at the risk of zoonoses - animal diseases that can 
pass to humans.
Dr June McNicholas, a health psychologist at Warwick University said 
children's exposure to animals in the first year of life reduced the risk of allergies.
Her survey showed that pets had wide access to the household and that hand 
washing after contact with pets was either rare or not insisted upon.
Children frequently shared food with pets, even when they were not supposed 
to. Some of them shared their beds. The report says: "Hand washing routines, 
however desirable, are almost impossible to adhere to.
"For example, many pets are fed at human mealtimes and many share snacks 
whilst the child watches TV - the one for you, now one for me type of snacks, like 
crisps and sweets."
Elizabeth Omerod, the chairman of the society said yesterday: "Contact with 
animals in the first year of life can protect children against allergies and 
there are other social benefits. Children learn patience. They learn to consider 
the needs of another and not to put themselves first."



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