Growing up with a dog is funny, emotionally intense and also good for your health! This important feature in the relationship between dog and owner has been confirmed by a recent study from researchers at the Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, New York. The protagonists of this peculiar research are children who derived significant benefit from interaction with their pet dogs.
The study: children with or without pets compared
The researchers invited parents of children aged 4 and 10 years old to complete a questionnaire covering various topics including health, nutrition, pet ownership and accident prevention. 370 of the children were found to have a dog while 273 did not. Using these statistics, the researchers discovered that while 12 per cent of the group of children with dogs tested positive for anxiety, this figure almost doubled to 21 per cent for the group of children without a pet dog at home. This illuminating evidence is summarised by the study’s author Dr Anne Gadomski: “What we actually found was children from homes with pet dogs had lower anxiety scores than children in homes with no pet dog.”
Kids and anxiety disorder: the role of a pet
Unfortunately, anxiety is a condition that is common as across the species: dogs, cats, and of course people of every age including children. In fact, more than 13 per cent of children 9 to 17 years old are known to suffer from it. Some types of anxiety are strictly connected to childhood, such as being afraid of the dark, monsters, storms, separation anxiety etc. and these can have direct consequences on the child’s life, damaging performance at school, affecting their social life and increasing the risk of drug abuse.
In these cases, how can a pet help a child? The comforting presence of a four-legged friend in the night could diminish the fear of sleeping alone. Furthermore, children having daily contact with a dog or another pet can build a real friendship in which dialogue and caresses not only lessen anxiety but help make the child more confident by having figure in their life in which they have unconditional trust.
The scholars were prudent in their conclusions: “Further studies should establish if this association is causal and, if yes, in which way dogs are able to lessen anxiety in childhood.” But will this latest research be enough to encourage pet adoption from sceptical parents?