By Helen Major
Pets play enormously significant roles in our lives, and while owning a pet does mean a little extra work on occasion, the many joys they bring more than make up for it.
Pets are even good for our physical and mental health, and if you have children, a family pet is great for their health and well-being too.
How do Pets Improve Our Mental Health?
Our pets are good for our mental health. Studies show that pet owners tend to be healthier, happier, and more well-adjusted than people who don’t own pets, with better physical fitness, self esteem, and mood. When we feel down or worried, pets help to mitigate the effects of depression and anxiety, including both the mental and physical effects of these mood disorders, and generally improving our health and well-being. It’s even been shown that just thinking about our pets can make us feel better when
Pet Ownership Is Good for Kids Too
The family pet can benefit children in lots of ways: for example, studies show that kids who grow up with pets are less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies, and spending time with pets is a great way to encourage children to enjoy playing outside, too. The mental benefits, however, can
be much more profound. For example:
* Pets provide unconditional, non-critical and non-judgmental love, which can help children develop a positive self image.
* Having pets at home can help provide a sense of security, and may help reduce problems like separation anxiety.
* Pet ownership can help children learn how to develop positive emotional attachments.
* Helping to take care of a pet allows a child to perform tasks that make them feel competent, further improving self image and esteem.
* Taking care of pets helps children learn about taking care of others, about compassion and empathy, and eventually about aging and death.
Pet ownership is important for all children, but it’s beneficial in very particular ways for children who are affected by mental disorders like anxiety, and neurological disorders like autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and ADHD. There’s plenty of scientific data to back this up. For example, children who are hyperactive or aggressive can benefit from owning a dog with a calm and relaxed nature; typically the benefit is greatest with companion animals that have been trained to provide specialized support.
In a study carried out by researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia, children with autism spectrum disorder, and neurotypical children, were evaluated on their social behavior and skills before and after learning how to take care of pet guinea pigs in their school classrooms. All the children spent time each week interacting with the animals, as well as learning about them. Both groups of children had improvements in social skills, and the benefits were more profound for thechildren with autism, demonstrating that pets can be particularly beneficial for neurotypical children. A similar study at the University of Colorado focused on the benefit of horseback riding for children with
autism spectrum disorder, and found that regular therapeutic sessions had physical, social, and psychological benefits for the young participants. A similar study at Washington State University evaluated children who took part in equine-focused activities for weekly 90-minute sessions, and found
that the children had improved social skills compared to peers who hadn’t taken part in the activities.
Just like adults, of course, a child doesn’t need to have a mood or neurological disorder to benefit from pet ownership. The benefits are there for everyone, regardless of age, health status, or any other factor.
Allen McConnell and Christina Brown (2011). Friends with Benefits: On the Consequences of Pet Ownership
American Psychological Association. The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People’
Azadeh Alai (2013). Pet Ownership and Mental Health: Ode to Man’s Best Friend
Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal (2015). The Health Benefits of Dogs and Cats
Nienke Endenburg and Ben Baarda. The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well-being: Effects on Child Development
PsychGuides. Anxiety Disorder Symptoms, Causes, and Effects
Waltham. Pets in Child Health and Development: Child Mental Health