Is having a pet good for children?

Pets — be they dogs, cats or other animals — are part of many families’ day-to-day life. It’s a known fact that having a pet benefits human life and has specific benefits on human health namely reducing stress, reducing cardiac frequency and blood pressure, improving emotional state and reducing depressive symptoms. Other than this and focusing specifically on children, in their crucial development years, are there specific benefits? Science says there is.

#1. Responsibility

How many times have we heard parents say they adopted their pet so that their child would learn about responsibility by taking care of them? Sure, taking care of the family pets and playing with them should become part of your children’s chores, specially from a certain age onward, but remember that a minor can never be the sole responsible person for a pet. Ultimately, the parents are obviously the responsible parties, but that doesn’t mean that simple tasks can’t be passed on to the kids, such as taking charge of meal time (under proper supervision and attendance) or being the energy-filled playmate. It’s up to parents to teach responsibility, pets just act as natural mediators in that process.

#2. Physical activity

Passear o cão, brincar com o cão, brincar com o gato, limpar a caixinha do coelho ou do hamster, todas estas são atividades também físicas. No mundo de hoje, em que as crianças se divertem com televisão, telemóveis, tablets e outros gadgets, qualquer oportunidade para se mexer deve ser aproveitada para melhorar a condição física da criança, o seu desenvolvimento e prevenir doenças como a obesidade, cada vez mais comum em jovens.

#3. Increased empathy

Caring for and interacting with pets seems to improve a child’s ability to develop empathy and show affection. Parents within families that are pet holders, recognise these traits when children comfort their pet during a scary event like a thunderstorm or call their pets into their games and social behaviors.

BONUS — pets themselves act as comfort to the child when she is frightened, afraid or even has a secret that can’t be shared with others (except her non-judgemental pet).

#4. Social interaction

Even shy and introverted children find that pets act as the most natural “links” with other people, and are far more likely to interact socially talking about their pet or someone else’s. Some children with disabilities

#5. Learning ability

There aren’t any studies yet proving the direct connection between having a pet and increased learning skills, but: there is evidence that suggest that pets promote the ideal conditions children would need to increase their learning ability. It’s generally accepted that this is due to increased focus, motivation, concentration, relaxation, reduced stress and the existence of a more positive social atmosphere.

BONUS — some countries have programs where children are allowed to read to dogs in animal shelters; this benefits both parts because children improve their reading skills and animals clearly benefit from the calm attention and social interaction they will need when they’re adopted. These children are less ashamed of reading to these pets because animals don’t judge them and their attention to the story remains the same, resulting in positive feedback on the the children’s self-esteem as to their reading skills. Kids with pets at home should be encouraged to read stories to them — our pets really are the best audiences for a bedtime story!
#6. Family bonds

Whether it’s because they plan fun activities as a group, because they take their dog out for a walk, play with the cat indoors or they see feeding time as a family moment — pets strengthen the bonds we have with our loved ones. A pet will help you connect to those close around you because she’s a social member that doesn’t judge, doesn’t criticise and is always there for the good times and the bad. And yes. Pets are definitely part of the family.

Author: Andreia Dias, DVM & Blogger

References:

Cardiovascular reactivity and the presence of pets, friends, and spouses: the truth about cats and dogs https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14Wff-nfcrivxnaqlYP1Bq1p1GiEkoHEnMm0xnRoAtyo/edit#gid=2671258

Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/

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