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Directions in Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) Research: Child Development, Health, & Therapeutic Interventions

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October 1-2, 2008

Meeting Summary

National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Mars, Inc., Partner to Promote
Research on Human-Animal Interaction (HAI)

Today in America, most households include a dog, cat, or other pet, and many classrooms are homes to fish, hamsters, gerbils and birds. While there is growing evidence of the health benefits of pet ownership in adulthood, there is comparatively little research on the role these companion animals play in the growth, health and development of children and how the power of this relationship can be employed in therapeutic settings.

In order to promote research in this area, the National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and The Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars, Inc., sponsored a workshop in October, 2008, entitled: Directions in Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) Research: Child Development, Health and Therapeutic Interventions. More than 40 of the world’s leading scientists in the field of HAI and related disciplines met to review current research and identify key topics for further investigation. This event was the first workshop on HAI research held at NIH in more than 20 years and was the first to focus exclusively on the role of pets in childhood and adolescence.

The researchers reviewed the results of recent HAI studies reporting associations between pet ownership and better mental and physical health, but many of these studies have been small and based on anecdotes or case studies, and most have focused primarily on adults.

Therapeutic interventions involving children and animals have become more common in schools, clinics and programs for troubled youth, but the evidence for their effectiveness is lacking, underscoring the urgent need for rigorous research, scientists say.

It is generally assumed that pets play an important role in the everyday lives of children. However, relatively few studies have been conducted to examine this relationship and how companion animals may influence children’s physical and emotional growth and development.

Challenges include funding for long-term studies, standardization of the investigative tools and measurements, and the need for an approach that involves clinicians and researchers from a variety of disciplines. Carefully designed scientific studies are needed to bring greater credibility to the HAI research field so that questions about the potential benefits of children’s interaction with animals can be answered based on reliable data and scientific findings.

Additional information about the Waltham Centre is available at: External Web Site Policy.

Additional information about Mars, Inc., is available at: External Web Site Policy.

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Last Reviewed: 11/30/2012
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