Pets are Beneficial to Children

Family Lying on Grass

In doing a bit of research for this blog post, we googled “why pets are good for children”.  We wanted to see what kind of results come up.  Try “googling” it yourself – there are tons of results.  Top lists of why pets are good for kids, everyone from Reader’s Digest, to Parent Magazines and blogs, to veterinary and health fields, to Oprah.  They all have their top reasons list.

Honestly we have always known there are benefits to pet ownership, regardless of age, but in looking up the information we were a little overwhelmed by how much is out there on kids and pets.  So we decided to make it our task to compile some of the information for you, we based this on about a half a dozen links from our search (although looking further, many sites had the same information repeated over and over).

There are a few items that resounded very loudly from our search:

1) Pets decrease the risk of children developing common allergies and asthma.

Studies have shown that having multiple pets actually decreases the risk of certain allergies developing in children; common indoor allergens such as dust and pet dander as well as common outdoor allergens such as ragweed and grass.  Early exposure to pets has also shown to decrease the risk of children developing asthma.   It seems to be unknown exactly why this is the case but the theory is that exposure to pet dander and bacteria carried by pets changes the way a child’s immune system responds to allergens.

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2) Children with pets have fewer visits to the doctor and fewer sick days from school.

Studies show that children with pets have a lower blood pressure and likely due to the reduction in allergies and asthma are less often sick.  Therefore less visits to the doctor and less days missed from school.

3) Pets teach children responsibility and encourage nurturing.

Being responsible, even for just small tasks of caring for a pet helps children to learn the value of responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment.  Very young children can even help with filling the pet’s food bowl to help teach them this value.   Caring for and being responsible for a pet also increases the companionship and unconditional love that the animal gives back – a valuable asset for a child.

Nurturing is a task that children learn best by doing.  Young girls are often seen playing house and playing with dolls, but boys, certainly not as often.  Caring for a pet encourages children to learn to be loving and nurturing and isn’t seen as a “gender-specific” task.

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4) Sharing the care of a pet increases the bond between siblings and all family members.

Pets are often cared for by more than one individual in the house, often siblings care for a pet together, or all members of the family are in some way responsible.  This common task can bond members of the family together.  There are also the added benefits of just spending time together playing with a pet, watching them play or taking them for a walk.  Pets also help to keep families talking, something as simple as cleaning the aquarium together can open lines of communication between family members.

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5) Children with pets (especially dogs) are more active and less prone to childhood weight gain.

As mentioned above, getting out and walking the dog or playing with the family pet are ways for the family to bond but this is also a way to increase childhood activity.  Many families will head to the park because it is “time to take Fido for a walk”, by doing so they will often spend time playing in the park as well as the activity of walking to get there.  Things like this may not occur if there is no other reason to get off the couch and go outside.

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The following three items all tied closely together with simple parts of pet ownership providing a great number of benefits:

6) Owning a pet increases self-esteem and social skills.

7) Pets reduce stress, loneliness and anxiety in children.

8) Children with pets are better at nonverbal communication and body language (displaying and interpreting) and are better at empathy and compassion.

Through nurturing and being responsible for a pet a child gains self-esteem.  Children also feel no pressure from a pet to develop skills such as reading aloud.  Researchers in a study measured the stress level of children when asked to read in front of a peer, an adult and a dog.  They found that kids were the most relaxed reading around the dog, not the humans.

One study found when children were asked who they shared secrets with and went to for comfort when they were sad, angry or afraid a large percentage of children included their pets in the list of those they turn to.

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Pets have a calming soothing effect which reduces stress and anxiety.  Children can cuddle with them with no expectations of sharing or talking and can thus feel at ease.  Pets of course, are nonjudgmental when children do share.  Studies have shown that due to the reduction in stress and anxiety that a pet brings, children have an easier time with more difficult homework tasks if done while their pet is present.

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The development of communication skills can be difficult for children with deficient language skills, who are shy or are not as popular as other children.  Pets are sympathetic listeners that provide no pressure to a child and they give children common interests with other children, a great conversation starting place.  Children also learn to develop nonverbal communication skills simply be learning to read their pet through visual cues and by learning from the nonverbal signals they also give off to their pet.

Have you ever noticed yourself, after a hard day, your pet’s response to you when you come home?  They quietly come up, cuddle in calmly and just sit with us.  We know how soothing that is for us as adults with a large toolbox of skills to handle stress, now imagine your child coming home from a hard day for them with a much smaller toolbox of coping skills and the family pet providing this same service to ease and comfort them.

Additional resources on Pets and Children:

ASPCA – How kids respond at different ages to pets

Coren, Stanley, “What Pets Can Teach Kids”, ParentsCanada.com, November 15, 2007

Jalongo, Mary Renck PhD, “The World’s Children and Their Companion Animals”, Association for Childhood Education International (January 2004)

Sources (listed alphabetically) for this blog post:

Oprah

OVMA

Parent Further Blog

Parents.com

Reader’s Digest

Webvet

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