5 Benefits of Pet Ownership for Kids

boy with dogIf you’ve been following this blog and our social media channels, you know that we recently added a new four-legged member to our team: Boomer, the therapy dog. Our canine therapist can help calm children during sessions. Lots of kids love dogs and other animals and having a furry friend around can make a big difference when it comes to tackling potentially stressful situations.

The presence of an animal like Boomer can benefit children not only in a therapeutic setting but also at home. Although it depends on the individual child and the types of pets involved, animals like cats and dogs can provide affection and companionship, in addition to helping children learn valuable life lessons and even gain nurturing skills. It’s no wonder that 68 percent of U.S. households, or 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2017-2018 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey.

If you’re considering adding a dog, cat, or other animal to your family, here are a few benefits of pet ownership for kids that you might want to consider.

1. Better physical health. Having pets at home can potentially improve a child’s physical health in a couple of different ways. First of all, a study by Dennis Ownby, M.D., of the Medical College of Georgia found that having pets decreases a child’s chances of developing particular allergies (such as reactions to dust, ragweed, and grass), according to the Parents article “The Benefits of Pets.” Other studies have linked having pets to a lower likelihood of having asthma.

Additionally, if children have pets like dogs that need exercise outside, that can help them stay active, according to the American Kennel Club article “The Many Ways Kids Benefit from Having a Dog.”

2. Better mental health. The joy that many children get from spending time with their pets can make a significant difference in their mental health. Spending time with animals generally reduces stress levels, and pets can be a great source of comfort for people of all ages when they feel down or upset.

Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of developmental studies at Purdue University, found that 40 percent of a group of 5-year-olds who owned pets mentioned turning to the animals when they experienced negative feelings or wanted to share a secret, the Parents article states.

3. Caretaking skill development. Pet ownership can help children gain key social skills as they learn to take care of another living creature, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) article “Pets And Children.” However, it’s important for parents to keep their child’s age and abilities in mind. For example, toddlers might not have good control over their impulses and/or anger yet, so they shouldn’t be left alone with a pet unsupervised.

4. Sense of responsibility. In addition to helping children learn how to nurture another living being, owning a pet can teach kids how to be responsible, the AACAP states. Being tasked with feeding or walking the family dog, for example, can help kids grasp the importance of fulfilling their obligations.

5. Experience with loss. Of course, not all the experiences that come with pet ownership are positive. At some point, all of us must learn about death and grief. Losing a cat, dog, or other household pet is often a child’s introduction to these hard but necessary life lessons.  

These are only some of the benefits of pet ownership for kids. If you’d like more information about how interacting with animals can benefit children and/or how our therapy dog helps patients at Little Steps, please contact our team of pediatric therapists. Our pediatric professionals provide comprehensive, compassionate care to improve the lives of children of all ages, one step at a time. Contact us today by calling 847-707-6744 or emailing info@littlestepspt.com.

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