Children who are exposed to pet dogs are associated with decreased likelihood of developing childhood anxiety, according to a study.
Previously studies have shown dogs can reduce the risk of allergies and asthma in children, boosting children’s immune system by exposing them to allergens early in life.
Researchers from Bassett Medical Center in New York investigated the hypothesis that pet dogs are positively associated with healthy weight and mental health among children. During the 18-month study period, the scientists looked at data on 643 children aged 4-10 years, with an average age of 6.7 years. Of these, around 58% had pet dogs in the home.
Participating parents answered a series of questions about their children’s body mass index (BMI), mental health, physical activity, screen time and pet ownership. The experts analyzed the collected data to discover a link between childhood anxiety and pets at home.
The study revealed no difference between children with and without a pet dog regarding BMI, screen time or physical activity. However, among the 58 percent of children with a dog in the home, 12 percent tested positive on a screening test for anxiety as compared to 21 percent of children who did not have a pet dog.
“Interacting with a friendly dog also reduces cortisol levels, most likely through oxytocin release, which lessens physiologic responses to stress. These hormonal effects may underline the observed emotional and behavioral benefits of animal-assisted therapy and pet dogs,” said Dr. Anna Gadomski, one of the study authors.
Pets can serve as an icebreaker and stimulate conversation, which helps relieve social anxiety. A dog pet also provides comfort and companionship, which can be especially beneficial for children. Animal-assisted therapy with dogs reduces anxiety and arousal, alleviates separation anxiety and enhances attachment in children, thus promoting mental health.
Dogs also tend to follow human communicative cues, which could help in emotional development. Children aged 7-8 years have previously ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem. IMAGE/Getty Images