Most children love animals and for those who don’t own a pet, it’s often a desire to have an animal companion. Researchers have been interested in finding out the benefits to furry, feathery and leathery friends and they have proven that pet ownership has several advantages. At the same time, health care providers are concerned about the health risks pets pose.
According to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, pets can decrease your:
•Feelings of loneliness
•Feelings of stress
and can increase your:
•Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
•Opportunities for socialization
•Levels of relaxation
“When children are asked who they talk to when they get upset, a lot of times their first answer is their pet. This points to the importance of pets as a source of comfort and developing empathy. In fact, therapists and researchers have reported that children with autism are sometimes better able to interact with pets, and this may help in their interactions with people.”
– Dr. James Griffin, scientist at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Additionally, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry outlines further benefits to pet ownership in children:
•They provide lessons about life; reproduction, birth, illnesses, accidents, death, and bereavement.
•They provide a connection to nature.
•They can teach respect for other living things.
•They can help develop responsible behavior in the children who care for them.
Dr. Tera Montgomery outlines, “Giving your children the task of feeding, watering, or walking a pet gives them their first taste of actions and consequences. Be certain to make the task appropriate to the age of the child, however. If you give a small child too much responsibility and they fail, not only could they injure the pet, but it could injure their outlook on pets as well as their self-esteem.”
Pets can also pose health risks. For example, in the U.S., 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs annually. Research has shown that of all children who are bitten, young, unsupervised children are most at risk. The highest incidence was found in 3 year olds. Another study showed that dogs who have bitten children typically haven’t bitten other people previously and are likely to be non-agresssive breeds. In addition, there are a slew of bacteria that can be contracted from pets.
To keep children safe, practice the following:
•Do not leave young children unsupervised around animals.
•Supervise children under age 5 while they’re interacting with animals.
•Wash hands thoroughly after contact with animals.
•Keep your pet clean and healthy, and keep vaccinations up to date.
•Prevent kids from kissing their pets or putting their hands or other objects in their mouths after touching animals.
Children can learn a lot from having pets and stand to improve their physical and mental health. Caregivers can foster this by being safe and educating the children in their care.