Pets and Health

Investigating the human health benefits of life with pets

Pet ownership is associated with a number of physical, mental and emotional health benefits. Our current Pets and Health study investigates the health and developmental benefits of companion animals for young children.

Our multidisciplinary, international team has led research and reviews in the areas of:
  • Dog ownership, dog walking and physical activity in older adults, adults and children
  • Dog ownership, dog walking and children’s independent mobility and outdoor play
  • Dog walking interventions to facilitate increased physical activity in adults and children
  • Creating supportive physical and policy environments for dog walking
  • Pet ownership, dog walking and social capital, sense of community, social support, social connections and perceptions of safety
  • Pet ownership and gastroenteritis in children
  • Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk
  • Tools and surveys: Dogs And Physical Activity (DAPA) Tool

The overall aim of this study is to see whether active play and walking with the family dog facilitates improved developmental outcomes in young children.

Through this research, we will pilot test companion animal-based interventions for improving young children’s health and developmental outcomes.

Our research is supported by funding from the US Human Animal Bond Research Institute.

Research team leader: Associate Professor Hayley Christian

UWA Associate Professor Hayley Christian researches areas that focus on improving children’s lives, whether through emotional wellbeing or physical play. She examines health and wellbeing through multi-level interventions focused on the child, family, social and built environment.

This includes identifying and testing strategies to create healthy early childhood education and care environments, while investigating how the home and neighborhood environment shapes children’s health and development.

Other collaborators within the UWA research team include Associate Professor Leanne Lester, Associate Professor Lisa Wood, Dr Gina Trapp, Ms Liz Wenden, Mr Pulan Bai and Ms Melissa Coci.

PhD opportunities

For prospective PhD students, the Pets and Health study offers a number of opportunities with research topics including the:

  • associations between dog ownership, physical activity, sedentary behaviour, overweight/obesity and developmental outcomes in children
  • relationship between family dog ownership and dog-facilitated physical activity from dog-centred active play or walking, within different child age groups (e.g. early years, primary school, adolescents)
  • influence of socio-demographic, social and physical environment factors and the collection of new data for older age groups of children as well as qualitative research with parents and children on the motivators and barriers to dog walking and play with dogs
  • determination of strategies for increasing dog-facilitated activity and improving the child and family health benefits of having a family dog
  • examination of the potential of dog walking to contribute to owners’ overall levels of physical activity and increase the proportion of people who meet the recommended level of physical activity

Overall, the project is likely to have significant implications for health promotion policy and will involve working closely with industry partners, nationally and internationally.

Students interested in applying for a PhD opportunity within this project will be required to:

  • conduct quantitative and qualitative research
  • undertake statistical analysis (SPSS and/or SAS)
  • have excellent writing skills
  • work as part of a team
  • have good interpersonal communication skills

Students are encouraged to arrange a time to meet and discuss potential topics with Associate Professor Hayley Christian.


Best friend forever: Here’s why walking your dog ensures you stay fit

New research suggests that not only does walking the dog help owners to be more physically active, but it also leads to increased feelings of safety within the neighbourhood. Led by Dr Hayley Christian from The University of Western Australia (UWA), the research is the first international study of its kind to consistently examine a possible link between dog walking, physical activity and people’s feelings of safety in their community.

Read more


Our collaborators for the Pets and Health study include researchers from the following institutes.


Purdue University    University of Liverpool logo

University of Calgary logo    Telethon kids    University of North Carolina logo

    University of Sydney logo

Contact Dr Hayley Christian