The relationship between pet ownership and youth development has become an increasingly important area of research in understanding pathways to well-being among youth. Families report high levels of pet ownership (68% of families in the United States have at least one pet), and youth consider pets an important member of the family. The high prevalence of companion animals and the initial evidence that human-animal interaction (HAI) promotes the social-emotional and physical health of youth all suggest that research on the relationship between HAI and youth development is critically important.
The first research goal is to assess if there are systematic differences between families who own pets and those who do not with regard to demographics, cultural and ethnic identity, social environment, and health status and if these factors predict patterns of pet ownership (e.g., stability or change in pet ownership status) over time. The second research goal is to determine the role of pet ownership in predicting trajectories of youth development, including social interaction and support, academic performance, mental health, physical activity, and substance use risk.