Are Pets Good for Kids?
Researchers are working hard to build a solid scientific case behind what many of us intuitively feel is true; pets are good for us.
A private-public partnership
between the National Institutes of Health and the Mars Corporation’s WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition is trying to answer questions such as do pets decrease stress, improve heart health, and help children with their emotional and social skills? If so, are the physical and mental health benefits different for different kinds of animals?
There are already many studies out there that show positive correlations between pet ownership and human physical and emotional health, but most experts agree that the studies to-date all have some flaws. The NIH/Mars effort is an attempt to get long-term, scientifically-sound data.
In the meantime, while the scientific jury is still out, there is certainly enough anecdotal evidence to make a compelling argument that Timmy should have a Lassie in his life.
Benefits of Owning Pets
Pets show us unconditional love, and that is a boost to our self-esteem. A review of 22 studies
on pet ownership and children found a strong association between childhood pet ownership and increased self-esteem, as well as this next benefit on our list.
Children are not as lonely with a pet in their life. Even when children are having a tough time in their relationships with other kids, a pet is always there for them. If the parent works, rather than coming home to an empty house after school, a pet is there to greet them.
at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University found that adolescents who had animal experiences were more likely to see themselves as important contributors to their communities, such as taking on leadership roles in organizations or doing community service. Taking care of an animal has many components necessary to leadership, such as responsibility, patience, and respect and empathy toward others.
Pets, particularly dogs who need regular walks and exercise, can help promote a more physically active lifestyle
. Getting kids off their screens and devices and engaged with a living, breathing being is a plus in most parent’s books!
Second-grade students who read aloud to dogs in an afterschool program demonstrated improved attitudes about reading, according to researchers at Tufts University
. Reading skills often are associated with improved academic performance and positive attitudes about school in children.
has reported that babies who grow up in homes with a dog or a cat are less likely to get sick than children in who live in pet-free homes and that children who grow up in homes with pets are less likely to develop allergies.
Exposing kids to pets may help ease their anxiety
. Blood pressure, heart rates, and behavioral distress in children aged 3 to 6 have all been shown to go down when there is an animal present. In fact, at Children’s Hospitals across America, doctors and nurses are experimenting with animal-assisted therapy programs to reduce anxiety and motivate kids to reach goals, such as walking, taking medicine, and eating.
While there are a lot of positive benefits to adding a four-legged friend to your family, taking on a pet is a huge responsibility, so it’s not a decision to make lightly. Pets need training, exercise, supervision, attention, baths, and proper hygiene. Pets also need proper veterinary care, which can add up quickly. If your family is frequently on-the-go, you’ll have to consider other expenses such as pet sitters, boarding, or even daycare.
Additionally, the CDC
notes some risks to having pets for children five years of age and younger or people with weakened immune systems. For example:
“Households with children five years of age and younger should not have pet reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes), amphibians (frogs, toads), or backyard poultry because of the risk of serious illness from germs spread between these animals and younger children.”
But if you do choose to commit to adding a pet to your family’s life, it’s a bond that can change your life for the better.