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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Pets boost children's school attendance
Researcher June McNicholas and ferrets
Researcher June McNicholas ferrets out the facts
Children who own pets have "significantly" better school attendance and are less likely to fall ill, researchers believe.

Their work does also contain a warning about the risk of catching infections from animals.

Why children seek a pet's company
40% when bored
32% when scared (mostly dogs)
53% while watching TV/videos
37% while reading/doing homework
28% after a family row
40% when upset
85% as a playmate
34% when tired
33% when feeling poorly
But they say there are clear benefits from the close physical relationship children have with their pets - especially when the children are younger, aged five to eight.

The research was carried out by University of Warwick health psychologist Dr June McNicholas and Novartis Animal Health.

They tested the immune systems of 138 youngsters and looked at school attendance records.

Dr McNicholas said: "Pet ownership was significantly associated with better school attendance rates."

Risk of worms

Children with pets had up to 18 more half days at school each year - attendance is usually measured in morning and afternoon sessions - than their non-pet owning counterparts.

The immune system tests suggested that the children with pets had more stable systems - indicating that they were better able to fend off illness.

But pets can also pass on what are known as "zoonotic" infections which humans cannot fight off.

Dr McNicholas said: "Toxocara canis, or roundworm, is the principle risk in the UK.

"This parasite is 'caught' by humans when they accidentally ingest roundworm eggs shed by an infected dog, and can cause anything from a stomach-ache to eye damage."

When asked if they ever shared food with a pet, 38% of the children said they shared snacks such as crisps while watching TV.

Almost a third shared food with their pets if they thought they weren't being seen and 16% shared food with their pets at mealtimes.

See also:

08 Nov 99 | Health
27 May 01 | Health
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