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A Pet Is Good For Emotional Health

May 22, 2020

During this current period of quarantine and social distancing, you may have found yourself worrying not only about your child’s physical health but their emotional health as well. You may have shied away from getting a family pet in the past because you weren’t sure if you were ready for a pet and you weren’t sure if your kids were prepared to help you care for one too. If you’ve been on the fence about whether or not your family is ready to welcome a new animal into your home here are a number of reasons why a pet isn’t just a wonderful addition to the family but why they’re also really beneficial to the mental and physical health of your children. Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that the unconditional love they give their owners is one of the best feelings in the world. Having a pet like a cat or a dog that needs to be walked or played with regularly can be beneficial to one’s health too. Not only is being active with your pet beneficial to your physical health, but the CDC notes that pet ownership can also help alleviate and manage symptoms of loneliness and depression. With children out of school and having to practice social distancing and self-isolation, having a pet that can keep them company is priceless. Many families avoid getting a furry friend out of fear of asthma and/or allergies, but Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta writes that getting a family pet when your children are little might actually be beneficial. “Recent research has indicated that newborns who live with dogs or cats are less likely to develop pet allergies and asthma when they get older,” they write. “Being around pets may also lower an infant’s risk of coughs and sniffles during the first year of life.” It’s hard not to love a pet, and when children grow up with pets it allows them to learn and practice their social skills. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has found that having a pet can help kids form bonds with others and can also help develop non-verbal communication, compassion, and empathy, which are all traits we want our kids to have. They also found that in addition to giving kids love, loyalty, and affection, pets really can become your child’s best friend. Having and caring for a pet also teaches children about responsibility, especially as they’re tasked with things like feeding the pet, taking the pet for a walk, or making sure their cage is clean. Therapy dogs have been used in many different situations, including the classroom to provide comfort, support, and even alleviate stress. News In Health reports that therapy dogs have been used to help children with ADHD be more focused while helping with their social skills and alleviating behavioral problems. They also cited a study that found that children who are on the Autism spectrum benefitted from playing with guinea pigs in their classroom by exhibiting lower levels of anxiety. “Animals can become a way of building a bridge for those social interactions,” explained Dr. James Griffin, a child development expert at NIH. Jackie King, Executive Director of the Pet Care Trust stated that “teachers have shared with us story after story about how their classroom pets have helped shy kids open up, struggling readers build confidence, aggressive children develop nurturing tendencies, and apathetic students gain a new desire for learning.” Pets aren’t only great for a child’s mental health, but for their physical health as well. If your child has a dog that needs to be walked regularly or a horse they can ride the physical benefits are many. The CDC notes that owning a pet can help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels while encouraging physical activity and exercise outdoors. Pets are amazing additions to a household, but you have to make sure you pick the right one. Not only can pets provide emotional support to your child but they can also encourage physical activity if you have a pet that needs to be walked or played with regularly. You need to factor in which sort of pet is best suited for your house, whether you choose a dog or cat, a fish, bird, reptile, or any variety of animals your child has shown interest in. You need to consider their life expectancy because animals are a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly and once you choose to welcome a pet into your home you need to be prepared for it. You also need to consider if the animal needs to be walked often and how big it will grow and whether you can afford the food and supplies it needs regularly. Once you factor in the financial and time expense of a pet you can decide if it’s the right fit for your family.

Pets aren’t for everyone but if you’ve been debating getting one for a while, now might be a perfect time. Take the time to speak openly and honestly with your child and set the expectations you have for them with regards to care and agree on what type of pet works best for your family. Their companionship and unconditional love truly adds to the family dynamic and teach children so many valuable lessons about responsibility and compassion that will make you happy you decided to add an animal to your family.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not your family is ready for a new pet, contact your local humane society or animal shelter and inquire about their foster care programs. Fostering an animal is a great way to see if you’re ready to care for a pet full time without the long term commitment.

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