Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I rather have a pet than an apple

Today, pets are in more than 60 percent of American homes. More people are incorporating pets into their leisure time, such as making them part of their exercise routines, taking them to dog parks and bringing them to family events. As a result, research involving human-animal interaction can be extremely beneficial.

This fall, the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) will explore the many ways animals benefit people of all ages during the International Society for Anthrozoology and Human-Animal Interaction Conference in Kansas City, Mo., on Oct. 20-25.

The conference will provide a unique opportunity for international experts working in human-animal interaction research to connect with those already working in the health and veterinary medicine fields. A wonderful array of presentations will show how beneficial animals can be in the lives of children, families and older adults.

Earlier this year, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), co-hosted two workshops with The WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars Incorporated, bringing together leading experts to discuss the benefits of human-animal interaction in childhood. With support from a grant from NICHD and sponsorship from WALTHAM®, the conference will continue this discussion.

Other conference discussions will include ways that human-animal interaction benefits humans and animals, new facets of human-animal interaction, and ways to apply new human-animal interaction knowledge to their fields. Some of the presentations will highlight the special role of companion animals in facilitating reading and physical activity in children and adults.

The few studies that have been conducted suggest that pet ownership may have multiple health and emotional benefits for both children and adults. Studies have shown that pets help lower blood pressure, encourages exercise, improve psychological health. But, there has been relatively little rigorous research documenting these benefits and examining how and why they occur. By providing support for this conference and additional research studies, experts hope to generate some answers.

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