Here’s one more talking point for your kids as they try to convince you to get them a four-legged friend: A new study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that having a pet dog at home is associated with a decreased likelihood of developing childhood anxiety.
Over 18 months, researchers from the Basset Medical Center, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Dartmouth Medical School analyzed 643 children in rural upstate New York in a pediatric primary care setting. Parents completed a comprehensive health risk screener before the child’s annual visit, answering questions on a tablet about their child’s body mass index, physical and mental health, screen time and pet status.
Noting that a parent’s mental health can affect their reporting about their own child, the researchers also screened and accounted for adults with depression. While BMI, physical activity or screen time did not differ among the kids with or without dogs, 21 percent of the children without dogs met the clinical threshold at which children are screened for anxiety and related disorders, compared to 12 percent of children with dogs.
The finding that held true even after the researchers controlled for several variables including poverty level, though they pointed out that the study merely revealed a correlation.
“Pet dogs could reduce childhood anxiety, particularly social and separation anxiety, by various mechanisms,” the study authors wrote, explaining that a pet dog can stimulate conversation for children, which has an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety (two people with a love for dogs or a pet at home immediately have something to bond over, for example).
“If exposure to pet dogs during childhood is inversely related to mental health problems, positive child-dog interactions could prevent the evolution of these problems into full-fledged disorders during adolescence or later life,” they added.
Previous research has found that interacting with dogs can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increase levels of oxytocin, the happiness hormone. Dogs can also be beneficial to a child’s physical health: A recent study found that kids who grow up with dogs are less likely to develop asthma.
Sounds like your little ones might have a point or two when they ask for that puppy.
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