The Many Benefits Pets (Especially Dogs) Bring to Children

Yes, pets can lower our blood pressure and extend our lifespans, but were you aware of the many benefits they are thought to bring to children? Well, hang on, because you’re about to find out just how beneficial they can be for kids.

Growing Up with Pets

As children, having a pet introduced into our homes can help teach us responsibility and how to care for those around us. They’re living, breathing beings, not toys, and their welfare is placed (to a certain extent) in our hands. Sure, mom and dad follow up on our rudimentary pet-care skills, but it’s a start. We feed and water them and eventually pick up the yard, empty their litter boxes, or change the bedding in the cages when the time comes to clean up after them.

And cuddling with pets of all sizes can teach us sympathy/empathy for others. But what about the things they can do for us beyond teaching us about responsibility and unconditional love?

girl and dog
Photo: Pixabay/llipkind

Reduced Anxiety in Children

Kids who live in homes with a dog score far lower on clinical measures for anxiety. According to research conducted at Bassett Medical Center in New York, just 12 percent of children living with dogs tested positive for clinical anxiety during the research, as opposed to 21 percent of juveniles without dogs. Dr. Anne Gadomski and her fellow researchers noted, “It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious,” but other studies indicate interacting with canines can not only lower the stress hormone cortisol but also release the bonding hormone oxytocin.

Mental Health Benefits of Dogs

Focusing on 643 kids between the ages of 6 and 7, the results — published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease — appear to confirm that contact with pets can reduce stress and anxiety in children similar to adults. The difference being that those raised with dogs as pets might actually grow up to be calmer, less worrisome adults. Interestingly, this conflicts with studies demonstrating a possible connection between increased mental health issues among kids raised around cats.

boy and dog
Photo: Pixabay/Norm_Bosworth

The results also noted, “From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants. Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children’s mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment. Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children’s emotional development.”

Asthma & Infants

September 2017, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed that infants exposed to increased levels of pet allergens may have a lower risk of developing asthma by age 7. The research was undertaken as part of an on-going study conducted by Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA) and funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through its Inner-City Asthma Consortium.

The NIH conveyed that while previous studies show that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma, the new findings suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before the condition develops, may actually have a preventive effect.

girl and dog
Photo: Pixabay/StephenCh

Improved Reading Skills

Kids that have the benefit of library or school programs incorporating therapy dogs into reading programs feel better about themselves and apply themselves more readily to reading. More than 20 years ago, a program in Salt Lake City called Dog Days Afternoons featuring five dogs and a cat began. Initially an experiment, the program was designed to improve the reading levels of children lacking confidence or suffering from low self-esteem. The idea was that the children would practice reading while the animals listened. Within weeks, the turnaround in confidence and reading skills was unmistakable.

Dogs can stimulate conversation, having an ice-breaking effect, which helps alleviate social anxiety. Pets also bolster friendships and foster the feeling of never being alone, along with encouraging exercise. What more do you need to know?

People, Pets & Planet

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