Kids with dogs shown to have less anxiety than petless peers

Every kid should know the joys of having a pet while growing up – this widely held conventional wisdom just received a huge vote of confidence from a New York based study that demonstrated kids are better off with pets, especially dogs.

A group of researchers from the Bassett Medical Center of Cooperstown, New York released a new study that suggests that children with pet dogs do not suffer as much anxiety as children who do not own any pets.

“We studied children with dogs because that was the most common pet and allowed us to collect a large sample of children,” said lead author Dr. Anne Gadomski. “What we actually found was children from homes with pet dogs had lower anxiety scores than children in homes with no pet dog.”

The team looked at 370 kids with dogs, 273 without them. All the children were between the ages of four and ten. The parents of these 643 children were given an iPad questionnaire to complete when their child went for an annual doctor’s checkup. The questions asked for basic information about the kid’s nutrition regimen and injury prevention strategies the parents had in place.

And of course, the questionnaire also asked about pets. The team found that only 12 percent of the 370 children with dogs (approximately 44 kids) tested positively for anxiety. In contrast, 21 percent of the 273 children without dogs (approximately 57 kids) showed strong indications of suffering from anxiety.

“From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants,” said Gadomski. “Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children’s mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment.”

The anxiety and fears examined by the study are only those that may occur in a child living with a stable, caring family. These can include fears of the dark, of monsters under the bed, of spiders/bees, etc.

“Young children between the ages of three and seven, that is the most common age to have childhood fears,” said Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, Texas Children’s Hospital developmental behavioral pediatrician. “It goes with magical thinking at that age. They don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, especially at night. Those are normal fears and don’t really interfere with the functioning of a child.”

More research will need to be conducted in order to determine if the link is causal or merely associative as well as to see if the soothing power of a dog can extend to more turbulent homes.

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