Dogs Can Make Children Healthier
A 2010 study in the UK found that children who lived with dogs spent 10 minutes more each day engaged in physical activity than did those in dog-free homes; the researchers even tallied up the extra number of steps they took (360, on average). Now, two studies published earlier this year point to some even more salubrious effects of life with dogs, especially for very young children.
The results were eye-opening. They found that compared to kids in pet-free homes, kids in homes with dogs:
- Had fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections
- Had ear infections less often
- Needed fewer courses of antibiotics
Here are five reasons to let the fur fly in your home.
Pets Help with Learning
Mary Renck Jalongo, PhD, education professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and author of The World of Children and Their Companion Animals. Educators have long known that bringing therapy animals (mostly dogs) into schools helps developmentally challenged kids learn.
Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal cues to communicate, just as dogs do. And learning to first connect with a dog may even help an autistic child in his or her interactions with people.
In one study, children were asked to read in front of a peer, an adult, and a dog. Researchers monitored their stress levels, and found that kids were most relaxed around the animal, not the humans.
Playing and exercising with a dog can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.
Pets Provide Comfort
Florence Nightingale, a pioneer of modern nursing , once wrote that a pet “is often an excellent companion for the sick.Plenty of pet owners are comforted by a pair of puppy-dog eyes or a swipe of the tongue when their dog catches them crying. Now, new research suggests that dogs really do respond uniquely to tears. But whether pets have empathy for human pain is less clear.
The majority of youngsters regard their pet as a playmate and friend who can be a source of comfort when they feel sad.
Pet animals are known to :
- lowers blood pressure
- improves cardiovascular health
- releases endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
- diminishes overall physical pain
- the act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some folks need
Children who have pets adjust better to the serious illness or death of a parent.
Pets Encourage Nurturing
Pets and children share a deep bond, one that teaches children empathy, compassion and respect.Household pets provide frequent opportunities for young boys and girls to develop nurturing habits. Caregiving for animals teaches them responsibility for seeing that the family dog or cat receives fresh water and food at certain times throughout the day.
Researchers in Poland studied the impact of keeping dogs or cats at home on the social development of 530 children 4-8 years old. Those children with pets had higher scores in pro-social behavior and self-reliance than those without pets.
A study in Australia concluded that animal-assisted preventive efforts are an optimal vehicle for promoting nurturing and empathy.
Pets Keep Kids Healthy
In a new study from researchers at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, results confirmed that babies who lived with a dog or to a lesser extent a cat, were healthier than babies with no exposure to these family pets.
New research in the journel Pediatrics shows that children who live in a home with a pet during their first year of life are also more likely to be healthier, compared with kids who don’t live in a pet-owning household.
“It’s more support in a growing body of evidence that exposure to pets early in life can stimulate the immune system to do a better job of fighting off infection,”
Pets make healthy lifestyle changes
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes plays an important role in easing symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Caring for a dog can help you make healthy lifestyle changes. Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Dogs can be a great social lubricant for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Dog owners also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
All in all, these studies are proving that dogs, especially those dirty ones, are not only important family members, but also make our children healthier. And in that regard, they may also have a positive impact on health care costs.
Adopt a dog, heal a child!
If you’ve decided that owning a dog is right for you, congratulations: you’re about to open your life to a unique and rewarding relationship. While people who have dogs tend to be happier, more independent, and feel more secure than those without pets, it’s important to select the type of dog that is best for your needs and lifestyle. Man’s best friend comes in countless breeds or mix of breeds, each offering a different blend of personality traits. Talk to other members of your household and agree on the qualities you want in a dog and those that you’d prefer to avoid.
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