Plenty has been said about dogs being “man’s best friend” — but now it turns out that the family pet has benefits for kids, too.
A new study, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, found that children who had pet dogs were less likely to develop childhood anxiety.
Researchers at the Basset Medical Center in New York, in conjunction with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Dartmouth Medical School, found that 12% of children who had pet dogs tested positive for clinical anxiety. The instance of anxiety rose to 21% for children who didn’t have pet dogs.
Dr. Anne Gadomski, who led the study, said that the correlation could indicate a number of things about the relationship between children and their pets. “It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious,” Gadomski told NBC News.
The study examined 643 children between ages six and seven from rural upstate New York. Of those, 370 children had pet dogs and 273 did not.
Parents of all children involved in the study had to complete a comprehensive health risk screener addressing their children’s physical and mental health and indicated whether or not the family owned a dog. Parents could indicate any health or other issues their children had, including whether or not they saw a speech therapist or other specialists.
In other words, the study also tracked whether children had therapy dogs, which researchers concluded could improve children’s mental health and affect developmental disorders “by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment.”
The study, which is available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, also points to other benefits of owning a pet.
Data from this year’s National Pet Week found that 56% of households own pets, and in general, pet owners are less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression than non-pet owners.
Science World Report also cites previous research on the benefits of interacting with dogs. Even just seeing a dog can help release oxytocin, which boosts an individual’s mood, and it lowers the stress hormone cortisol.
As for the link between children and their pets, Gadomski and team say that lowered stress and anxiety in childhood can have a positive impact in the long-term.
“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,” the researchers stated.