Kids who are raised with pets are healthier. And the benefits go beyond the purely physical: Their emotional well-being gets a boost, too. So the next time little Susan asks for a puppy, don’t be so quick to say no. Your family could be missing out!
Here are the core health benefits children receive from pets:
With the advent of digital technology, kids are more and more likely to while away their afternoons on touchscreens and television shows. Dogs encourage them to play more, spend time outside, run around, and learn to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking. Not only do kids stay more fit–they also develop a genuine love for connecting with nature. That’s a lifelong benefit that’s hard to teach in any other way.
Better Immune Systems
Children raised with dogs and farm animals have a lower incidence of asthma. Researchers have also found that infants who spend time around dogs have a reduced risk of developing allergy-based illnesses. Another benefit? Children who grow up with pets themselves are far less likely to develop pet allergies–so they’ll be able to enjoy all the other benefits of pet ownership throughout their lives!
While there are many mechanisms at play, it seems that pet-owning families expose their children to a wider range of potential allergens at earlier ages. Germs and dirt are good for us, and small exposures help our immune systems to become more robust.
Animals can teach children to overcome their fears, not only because of their presence but because of the strength of the bonds they form. A friendly dog can help a shy kid make friends. A cuddly cat could be the perfect companion for an anxiety-prone child.
Many kids from pet-free homes are scared of dogs and cats, and these fears can develop into full-blown phobias if they’re not overcome by adulthood. Witnessing a pet’s everyday acts of bravery can help children take more risks (and adult guidance can further help them understand appropriate risk-taking). Kids who grow up with pets as friends also display more compassion and have more self-esteem.
You might be surprised at the astronomical levels of stress generated by today’s educational system and other aspects of childhood today. High levels of stress-related hormones are associated with emotional distress, poor cognitive functioning, and even long-term health consequences. For instance, people whose childhoods incur repetitive, unpredictable stress are far more likely to develop serious illnesses like autoimmune disease and cancer. The good news is that bonding with pets brings stress levels down by increasing oxytocin and decreasing cortisol. Dogs also follow regular daily routines, and these can help children regulate stress as well. Kids can look forward to their daily walks as part of their overall stress management.
Scientists who measure happiness can use “satisfaction with social relationships” as shorthand to determine whether a person is likely to be happy or not. And the ability to develop stable, healthy relationships is deeply rooted in childhood. Through forming bonds with a pet, children become more trusting and compassionate because they have a constant, supportive source of love and admiration. They feel at ease with their pets, and this can help them feel more comfortable in many social situations, too.
Bonding with a pet can also make children more calm, patient, and understanding. Getting kids involved in taking care of the family dog is a great exercise in building patience. It also helps them understand that others, including animals, have needs and emotions, as well, and this helps children develop empathy and compassion.
Of course, parents should be present to guide their kids in raising and training the family dog and encourage their children whenever they feel frustrated with their pet. Raising a dog is challenging. Dogs have needs, including a healthy diet, nutritious and delicious treats, training, and love and attention. Parental guidance and encouragement are very important in making the entire experience positive and rewarding for the kids and the pets.
What’s more, when they are out with their dogs or they meet other pets, they’re more likely to strike up conversations and make new friends. These skills may seem simple enough, but they form the foundation for a lifetime of great relationships and happy moments. And because they don’t feel lonely and desperate, they make smarter decisions about who to spend time with.
The Bottom Line
From emotional intelligence to physical well-being to a resilient spirit, there’s no end to the health boosts kids get when they’re raised with dogs. These benefits are cyclical: Active, social kids are less likely to be depressed, and more likely to invest time in caring for and loving their pets. In turn, they will find new advantages of dog ownership through each phase of life.
Next time you’re about to tell your kid to go outside and play, ask yourself if a dog might be the catalyst to create a real change in your family’s health. Instead of having to be told, your kid will want to run around outside. Your new dog might become your child’s best health teacher!
Written by Nat Smith, Rover.com community member. Rover is the nation’s largest network of 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers.
Read more: How To Help Your Cat Adjust To a Newborn Baby at Kitty Wise