If you’ve been considering adding a four-legged friend to the family, or are just looking for an excuse to love your pet a even more, it turns out they have a positive affect on children's health.
While stress is something that affects most adults at some point in their lives, what is largely unknown is that stress can also affect children.
“Stress is often a result of what we should be doing, versus what we are actually doing,” says Dr Ryan Harvey of House Call Doctor. “Therefore, it can affect anyone at any time - including kids.”
It may be confronting to hear that your child could possibly be stressed throughout the day, but there is some good news. Engaging with their furry friend can help.
A recent study found that children who pet their cats and dogs when stressed have lower cortisol levels.
“Cortisol is a hormone produced in response to a stressful situation or event,” says Dr Harvey. “The lower the cortisol levels, the less stressed individuals are.”
Just one pat of the neighbours dog won’t do, the study found that the levels of cortisol varied greatly depending on how much the child engaged with the animal. The more they played and petted their cat or dog, the less stressed they were.
“Understanding how stress functions early in life is crucial to preventing stress in adulthood,” says Dr Harvey. “The way we learn to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences on our emotional health and wellbeing.”
If that’s not enough to earn your pet some extra dinner, or to convince you adding to the family is a good idea, the power of pets extends further. Whether you prefer cats, dogs, birds, mice or lizards there are a number of health benefits to owning a pet:
1. Increased cardiovascular health
Owning a pet can have an immense impact on your cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. This can be beneficial for the whole family.
Scheduling regular walking times of your dog can also help keep the family fit and active which is essential to overall well-being.
2. Boosts your mood
If you feel happiest around your pet this doesn’t necessarily make you a ‘crazy cat lady’. Science has proved that regular contact with animals boosts your mood.
Being with and regularly exercising pets increases serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine. These are the happy, loving and calming hormones which circulate our body. Higher levels of these can increase our general mental health.
3. Strengthens the immune system for children
It may seem odd but research has shown that children who grow up with dogs are 33% less likely to develop related allergies. Overall they found children exposed to animals at a young age have stronger immune systems.
4. Encourages responsibility
Owning a pet is a big deal. It’s not all cuddles and wet kisses, there is a lot of work that goes into looking after another life.
“Owning a pet provides an excellent opportunity for children to develop a sense of responsibility early in life,” says Dr Harvey. From changing kitty litter to bathing, brushing and feeding, there is a lot to be done.
Encouraging children to look after their pets can help teach responsibility and empathy for another living being.
5. Great caregivers
Somehow our pets just know when we are feeling under the weather. Being curled up on the couch surrounded by a wall of snotty tissues is made infinitely better when there is a furry friend there with you.