Can raising your children with dogs support their mental wellbeing?

By Kate Hassett

Can raising your children with dogs support their mental wellbeing?
Studies link pet ownership to lower levels of anxiety in children.

Multiple studies over the years have concluded that pet ownership is beneficial in more ways than one. From lower levels and increased cardiovascular health to assisting diabetics – alerting them to drops in blood sugar levels, dogs in particular can do wonders for all members of your family.

Not only are they loyal, protective and the perfect companion when you’re feeling down, they can also assist in building up children’s tolerance to everyday germs and allergens.

Now, a new study has shown that having a pet dog in the house can contribute to a decreased likelihood of children developing anxiety.

Published in medical journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the Basset Medical Centre at the University of Oklahoma, analysed 643 children, aged six-seven, in rural upstate New York over the period of 18 months.

The parents of the children involved in the study were asked to complete a comprehensive health risk screener before the child’s annual visit. This included answering questions about the physical and mental health of the children, how much time they spent exposed to computers, tablets or tv and their pet status.

The mental and physical health of the parents was also assessed as an indicator of the children’s mental health.

The study found that those who were raised with dogs in the house didn’t report a remarkable difference in activity or screen time. However, out of the 48% of children who lived with dogs, only 12% of them had the potential for childhood anxiety – based on research and medical records. For those who lived without dogs, that number almost doubled, with 21% reporting risk of developing anxiety, despite variables like income and family structure.

“Pet dogs could reduce childhood anxiety, particularly social and separation anxiety, by various mechanisms,” the study authors wrote.

The authors added that dogs can act as a positive ‘ice breaker’ for children who suffer from social anxiety, for example – the topic of dogs, or the meeting of dogs can stimulate conversation for children who have trouble navigating certain social situations.

“If exposure to pet dogs during childhood is inversely related to mental health problems, positive child-dog interactions could prevent the evolution of these problems into full-fledged disorders during adolescence or later life,” they added.



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