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Keywords:

  • human-animal interaction;
  • animal-assisted intervention;
  • animal-assisted therapy;
  • child health;
  • child development

Abstract— Research on human–animal interaction (HAI) is a relatively new field of inquiry for developmental scientists seeking to understand the potential role pets play in children’s health and well-being. It has been documented that pets offer a source of emotional support to children. However, most studies focusing on how animals affect children’s health are limited and stop short of providing answers to key developmental questions. Addressing this need, beginning in 2008, scientists at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in collaboration with the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition, a subsidiary of the Mars Corporation, convened two international conferences of researchers to review the current science on HAI. These groups crafted a research agenda aimed at looking at how animal interaction affects children and promotes optimal development. This article reviews the key themes emerging from the conferences, addresses the application of HAI to child health and development, and discusses the potential of HAI as an important field of inquiry for developmental scientists.