Research Spotlight: How does pet ownership impact children’s health?

A grey and white husky puppy lays on a brown leather couch with a brown fluffy blanket, looking straight into the camera.

Your furry friend is more than just a great companion: according to research out of UAlbany’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, pets may provide protective health benefits against the effects of environmental tobacco smoke exposure.


Working as a part of an international team, UAlbany researchers conducted two studies examining pet ownership and health.


The first study, which looked at whether exposure to pets influences the association between high blood pressure for children and environmental tobacco smoke, reported that children who were exposed to pets were less vulnerable to the effects of environmental tobacco smoke on blood pressure than those who were not exposed to pets. In addition, the protective effect of pet ownership became stronger with a greater number of pets in the home.


These results were found from examining data from 9,354 children between the ages of 5 and 17 recruited from 62 schools in seven northeastern cities in China from 2012-2013. Blood pressure and other basic measurements were collected, along with a questionnaire completed by the parents that addressed the children’s exposure to pets and tobacco smoke.


“While our results suggest that pet ownership potentially mitigates the risk of environmental tobacco smoke exposure, it is important that health policies and campaigns are enacted to further reduce hypertension risks for children,” says Dr. Shao Lin, professor and one of the authors of the study. “Legislation on tobacco smoke paired with health promotion efforts are needed, particularly to help protect against home exposure for children.”


But pet ownership may negatively impact health, too, depending on when the pet was owned.


The second study conducted by the team, which looked at the relationship of environmental tobacco smoke and lung function, found that the time window of pet ownership has an influence on the effects of smoke on lung function. Pet exposure in utero and during the first two years of life, but not current ownership, increased the risk of impairment of lung function induced by environmental tobacco smoke.


These results were also found by analyzing results from data collected in northeastern cities in China. Researchers collected lung function data from 7,326 children between the ages of 7 and 14 measured by spirometry, which evaluates how much air is inhaled and exhaled. Information on pet ownership time periods and tobacco smoke exposure was gathered via parental questionnaire.


“These studies provide significant insight into how owning pets may influence the relationship between environmental tobacco smoke and children’s health,” says Dr. Michael S. Bloom, associate professor and co-author of both studies. “While the studies took place in China, cardiovascular and respiratory issues are prevalent worldwide, so these results merit further investigation among children from other populations to see if we find similar associations.”