Want health­ier kids? Get a pet

Rome News-Tribune - - YOUNG ROMANS -

If young­sters have been eye­ing fuzzy kit­tens or bois­ter­ous pup­pies at nearby shel­ters or pet stores, par­ents may want to give in to those cries for a fam­ily pet. Pets are added re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, but the health ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with pet own­er­ship may be well worth the in­vest­ment of time and ef­fort.

Car­ing for a pet is some­times viewed as a child­hood rite of pas­sage, but there’s much more to the ex­pe­ri­ence than just learn­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity. Ex­perts say a child’s emo­tional, cog­ni­tive, phys­i­cal, and so­cial devel­op­ment can be en­hanced through in­ter­ac­tion with a fam­ily pet. Stud­ies con­tinue, but the ef­fects of fam­ily pets on chil­dren was heav­ily re­searched by de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist Gail F. Mel­son in 2003. Mel­son looked at lit­er­a­ture on child-an­i­mal re­la­tion­ships and found that chil­dren who had pets were bet­ter able to un­der­stand bi­ol­ogy and chil­dren who could turn to pets for un­con­di­tional emo­tional sup­port were less anx­ious and with­drawn than their peers with­out fam­ily pets to turn to.

Data from a small study con­ducted by re­searchers at the Cum­mings School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine at Tufts Univer­sity re­ported that ado­les­cents who had an­i­mal ex­pe­ri­ence were more likely to see them­selves as im­por­tant con­trib­u­tors to com­mu­ni­ties and more likely to take on lead­er­ship roles.

Pets also can help chil­dren de­velop into well­rounded in­di­vid­u­als. Play­ing with a pet re­quires chil­dren to en­gage in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and can help stim­u­late mo­tor skills. An English study con­ducted in 2010 and pub­lished in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pub­lic Health found that chil­dren from dog-own­ing fam­i­lies spent more time in light or mod­er­ate to vig­or­ous phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and recorded higher lev­els of ac­tiv­ity counts per minute than kids whose fam­i­lies did not own a dog.

Pets may help with al­ler­gies and res­pi­ra­tory ail­ments as well. A 2012 study by the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics dis­cov­ered that chil­dren who have early con­tact with cats and dogs have fewer res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions and ear in­fec­tions and need shorter cour­ses of an­tibi­otics than chil­dren who have not had con­tact with pets.

A study from Den­nis Ownby, MD, a pe­di­a­tri­cian and head of the al­lergy and im­munol­ogy depart­ment of the Med­i­cal Col­lege of Ge­or­gia, found that hav­ing mul­ti­ple pets de­creases a child’s risk of de­vel­op­ing cer­tain al­ler­gies. He found that the chil­dren who were ex­posed to two or more dogs or cats as ba­bies were less than half as likely to de­velop com­mon al­ler­gies as kids who had no pets in the home.

Pets also may fos­ter so­cial in­ter­ac­tions, which can ben­e­fit chil­dren who are shy. Invit­ing oth­ers over to meet pets can help chil­dren make friends and find oth­ers with sim­i­lar in­ter­ests. Chil­dren may also con­fide in pets and de­velop their self-es­teem.

Stud­ies have in­di­cated that the type of pet a fam­ily has, whether it’s horses, dogs, snakes, etc., does not mat­ter, as all com­pan­ion an­i­mals have the po­ten­tial to ben­e­fit chil­dren.

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