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Does Having A Childhood Pet Improve Your Wellbeing?

A research team from the University of Queensland is trying to figure out whether having childhood pets improves the health and happiness of people into adulthood.

The connection between pets and increased mental and physical wellbeing has been established in previous research.

One 2018 review of 17 different studies exploring human and pet emotional interactions found that pets can provide benefits to people suffering from mental health conditions through intense emotional connection.

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Social isolation, stress, a lack of identity, a lack of sense of purpose, and problems with self-management all seem to be improved by owning a pet.

There are also strong physical benefits, with cats, dogs and rabbits encouraging owners to spend more time outdoors.

Dog owners particularly are more likely to exercise regularly, regardless of weather, according to a 2017 study of more than 3,000 adults from the University of East Anglia.

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In fact, the health benefits of pet ownership are so profound, one 2016 study from the U.S. based Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) found that the nation's total savings as a result of owning an animal amounted to $US 11.7 billion in healthcare costs.

The HABRI study found that pet owners were 0.6 times likely to visit a doctor than average non-pet owners.

Doctor Kylie Burke from the University of Queensland's School of Psychology Parenting and Family Support Centre is leading two new studies to try and understand how having a pet as a child can affect our emotional wellbeing as adults.

Burke told 10 daily that animals have been shown to be effective playmates or companions to children that provide a sense of belonging, comfort, and early experiences of responsibility.

A sense of empathy for animals can also affect our empathy for one another.

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"There's a little bit of information out there, with some of it showing that when children feel empathy for animals it can have positive effects for empathy with others," Burke said.

Burke is looking to recruit at least 1,000 participants in total across two studies, including one that looks at parents' and children's attitudes towards animals and another that surveys young adults about their childhood pets and human relationships.

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Burke said that Australians' relationships with pets was changing, with 62 percent of households now having at least one pet and many of us perceive our animals as members of the family.

"Animals and children are put together more and more, animals tend to live inside the house more...that kind of context can mean there's a lot of benefit that children an animals can get from one another," she said.

Burke believes that by conducting this kind of research, governmental health policy can accommodate for more pet-friendly environments in public spaces.

So-called 'walkable' communities allow for dog-owners to interact socially more with one another and forge social bonds based on their pets.

"How can we make it so that the Australian community is supportive of animals and the way in which families like to interact with animals?" Burke said.