A new study in the United States revealed that children who have pet dogs at home are less likely to suffer from anxiety compared to those who do not.
Previous research conducted on adults proved that dogs as companions contribute to better mental and physical health, but little is known about the link between children's health and their pet dogs. Other studies showed that dogs can reduce risks for allergies for babies who are exposed to pets at an early age.
In the current study, featured in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, a team of researchers from different institutions assessed 643 children who were aged six to seven years old and were enrolled in a pediatric primary care clinic in upstate New York.
Before the participants' annual visit, their parents answered a comprehensive health risk screener with questions regarding their kids' screen time, mental and physical health, pet status and body mass index (BMI). The researchers noted that the mental health of the parents could affect their answers, so they also screened them for depression.
About 58 percent of the kids had dogs at their home. Of the kids with pet dogs, 12 percent tested positive on a screening test for potential childhood anxiety, researchers found. Of the kids who do not have dogs, 21 percent were tested positive.
When the researchers controlled several variables such as poverty level, the findings were still the same, although they pointed out that the findings merely showed a correlation.
The authors of the study explained that the findings can be viewed in two ways: it could be that the less anxious children have pet dogs or that the pet dogs make children less anxious. With the latter, researchers said that a pet dog can help children by stimulating conversation. Having a pet dog has an ice-breaking effect which can alleviate social anxiety. People who love dogs can have something to bond over, they said.
Dr. Anne Gadomski, one of the authors of the study, said they were aware of how special pets can be to kids.
"Sometimes their first word is the name of their pet," said Gadomski.
She explained that there is a very strong bond between kids and their pets, and that their team studied pet dogs because a lot of research has been done about them.
"It doesn't mean that cats can't do the same thing," she added.
Photo: Rob Bixby | Flickr