Research Finds Pet Dogs Can Reduce Kids’ Anxiety

Little girl feeding her puppyParents who give into pleas for a puppy might improve their children’s mental health, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. Previous research has found a number of health benefits associated with pet ownership in adults, but this is one of the first studies documenting the effects of pet ownership on children.

According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 survey, 79.7 million American households have a pet.

Pet Ownership: Anxiety Reducer in Children?

Researchers looked at data on 643 children ages 18 months and older, with an average age of 6.7 years. The majority (96%) were white. Forty-five percent were female, and 58% had pet dogs. The children’s parents completed a health screening tool that assessed body mass index (BMI), screen time, mental health, physical activity, and time with pets.

Even when researchers controlled for anxiety risk factors, children who had pet dogs were less likely to have anxiety, experiencing symptoms at a rate of 12%, compared to 21% among children who did not own pets. Pet ownership did not produce differences in BMI, screen time, or physical activity levels.

Though the team did not directly assess how dogs might improve health, they did suggest possible correlations. Pets can promote play and social interaction, which can reduce anxiety and improve social support. Dogs may serve as a supportive companion, and caring for them can increase children’s sense of responsibility and empathy.

How Pets Can Improve Health

It is not only children who benefit from pet ownership. According to the CDC, pets can offer adults a number of health benefits. Those include:

  • A reduced risk of obesity because pet owners who walk their pets are more likely to meet the CDC’s physical activity guidelines.
  • A reduction in smoking; one survey found 28% of smokers said adverse effects on their pets’ health would encourage them to quit smoking.
  • Better physical health, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Better mental health, including a reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

References:

  1. Gadomski, A. M., MD, MPH, Scribani, M. B., MPH, Krupa, N., Jenkins, P., PhD, Nagykaldi, Z., PhD, & Olson, A., PhD. (2015, November 25). Pets dogs and children’s health: Opportunities for chronic disease prevention? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2015/15_0204.htm
  2. Pets by the numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F

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  • Harold

    Harold

    November 30th, 2015 at 3:47 PM

    I guess that this is why therapy dogs can be of such great use when working with children.

  • DeAnne

    DeAnne

    November 30th, 2015 at 8:02 PM

    I have Medicine resistant Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety, social phobia and panic attacks. 3.5 years ago I adopted a Yorkie, he’s only 3 pounds and just turned 4 last week. If it wasn’t for him I might not be alive today.

  • Nataly

    Nataly

    December 1st, 2015 at 12:44 AM

    I absolutely agree with the article.Dogs is a real remedy for anxiety in children,Moreover,Children who have ets are more socially adopted.And it helps to develop many good qualitieas in child.

  • Franklin

    Franklin

    December 2nd, 2015 at 2:35 PM

    I wouldn’t only say that this is for children.
    I would say that for most of us who have a loved pet in our lives, there is something special about that pet that can usually bring down our anxiety levels even after we have had a terrible day.
    That is the true meaning of what unconditional love is, and I think that is what most of us perceive that we get from our animals.

  • Maven

    Maven

    December 4th, 2015 at 10:32 AM

    My dogs are my family. I am not married and have no other real family where I live so for me they are it. I would never want to think of something happening to them like the rest of you would never want that for a family member. They are my loved ones and i dare say that they probably love me and depend on me more than anyone else in my life ever has.

  • Dewitt

    Dewitt

    April 12th, 2017 at 3:46 PM

    Good article, BUT the photo isn’t appropriate. Children should not be interacting with a dog while it’s eating. It’s a common way bites occur.

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