If your family is in the midst of debating whether or not to get a pet, there’s some pretty strong evidence suggesting you should.
There have been research studies showing that pets can help promote child development, teach responsibility, and can even improve the mental health of not just children but also adults.
In fact, among the ways to help anxiety and depression, owning a pet may be one of the best non-medical options.
The following are some of the benefits of having a family pet to be aware of as you make a big decision.
Pets can provide enormous benefits for mental health, and they’re often used as part of therapy programs for children and adults.
Research was done looking at the effects of having a pet at home for veterans with PTSD.
It found some of the benefits of a service dog included:
- Reduced PTSD symptoms
- Lower depression levels
- Improved life satisfaction
- Better overall psychological well-being
- Reduced social isolation
- More resilience
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study on hundreds of kids. That study found that children with a dog at home were less likely to have emotional problems or anxiety than kids without a pet.
Children may have higher levels of self-esteem when they have a pet, in addition to reducing anxiety and stress.
Having a pet in childhood can also reduce the likelihood of developing emotional or mental health problems in adolescence or later in life.
There’s a scientific basis for some of the benefits a dog can have on children’s mental health. For example, when you interact with a friendly dog, it can release oxytocin, which reduces your physical stress response and lowers cortisol. There are true hormonal effects of being around a dog that we’re increasingly learning more about.
Classroom research has found that dogs may help kids with ADHD focus their attention more effectively.
Kids on the autism spectrum have shown benefits in studies when they interact with dogs and other animals.
For example, there was a study of children with autism spectrum disorder who played with guinea pigs in a classroom. When they played with guinea pigs for just ten minutes their levels of anxiety declined. The kids who played with the pets also had more engagement with their peers and improved social interactions.
Reduced Likelihood of Obesity
Children can benefit not just in terms of their mental health if they have a pet in the home, but also their physical health.
Kids with pets, particularly pets like dogs that need regular exercise, may have a reduced likelihood of obesity.
Childhood obesity is a serious epidemic in the U.S. with long-term health consequences.
When a child has a dog, they can play outside and potentially help walk the dog. It’s also more likely to get kids away from screens and outdoors, which is important for overall health and development.
Pets can positively impact children’s development. Having an attachment to pets can improve social development, social interaction, communication, and social competence.
Children with pets can learn to understand non-verbal communication, and they may be able to improve their own emotional expression.
Children also get the chance to care for something that’s dependent on them, giving them a sense of purpose and importance. Caring for a pet has been linked to self-esteem in children and a sense of achievement.
When your child has a pet around them, there’s a bond that can form, and that can promote empathy and compassion. Then, children can take the skills they learn in their interactions with their pets and apply them to their social interactions with other people.
When kids have a pet, it can teach them how to handle their anger and strong emotions in healthy ways rather than, for example taking their anger out on an animal or someone else.
A child can learn emotional intelligence by gauging when their pet is feeling scared or anxious themselves, and they can then handle those situations gently.
Some children feel lonely or like they don’t connect well with others.
Pets, however, can reduce feelings of isolation, and they provide unconditional love and support. Of course, kids can also rely on their pet as a non-judgmental confidant.
Sense of Responsibility
Kids with pets can build a sense of responsibility. Sharing in the tasks of pet ownership is a great way for kids to learn about responsibility and to take on age-appropriate chores.
It’s also good for kids to have a pet because it can promote a sense of structure and responsibility.
For example, your child may learn that each morning, first thing, they give their pet food and water.
That lets your child build a morning routine that includes a structure.
How to Choose the Best Pet for Your Family
There are logistics to think about when choosing a pet.
For example, if you want to get a dog, you’ll have to think about how much outdoor space the dog might need and how much you have available.
If you’re not sure if your family is ready for the responsibility of a dog, you can start with another pet, which can still have many benefits for kids.
Rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs are all fairly low maintenance. A cat can be fairly easy to take care of as well.
Be realistic about how much time your family has available to care for a pet, and what the temperament of your children is, as well as an animal’s potential temperament.
If you’re going to get a dog or cat, think about adoption unless there’s a reason your family might need a specific breed.
A pet is, of course, a huge responsibility, but if you’re on the fence, it’s important to think about the benefits pet ownership can have for your kids. Of course, there will also be benefits for you in terms of your mental and physical health, so it’s a win-win if you prepare yourself for what you’re taking on.