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How Pets Are Good For Children

Health benefits of pets for child development

My cousin is pregnant. Not so long ago, she was walking her dog (a big, soppy labrador cross) in the park with a friend. Halfway through their stroll, her friend casually asked “Are you planning to keep the dog when the baby comes along?”

Understandably, my friend experienced a mixture of anger and confusion. Of course she was ‘planning’ to keep the dog! Why on earth would she give up her friendly, gentle, beloved canine family member simply because a baby was coming along?

Pets are beneficial to children
Exceptions aside, common household pets can be very beneficial to child development, their immune system and emotional growth. (Image: Pixabay)

Can Pets and Babies Co-exist?

“I’ve heard it can be dangerous to have pets and babies in the same house”, her friend explained, to her (rather sharp) query. My cousin hotly responded that, so long as she was responsible and diligent about it, she saw no reason at all why her dog and her child should not co-exist quite happily.

The arrival of a new baby is, sadly, a common reason for previously adored pets to end up in shelters. The idea that animals and children can’t live together seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent. People see pets as ‘dirty’, as demanding time which will be needed for the children, or even as ‘dangerous’. Consequently, many bewildered animals find themselves outside in the cold when a family expands.

This is a great shame, as pets can have a hugely positive impact on a child’s development. Of course, some animals really aren’t suitable to co-exist around children. Children are unpredictable, they move jerkily, and they have a tendency to grab at animals. Pets who are nervous, or likely to lash out won’t live happily in such situations. However, much of the time, pets can not only co-exist safely with children - they actively improve children’s lives. Here’s how:

Pets Improve Children’s Immune Systems

“They’re dirty”, is a commonly cited reason to keep pets and children apart. The implication is that, however hard we work to keep our dogs and cats clean and healthy, they’ll track all kinds of diseases into the house - which could infect the children. In one way, this isn’t too far from the truth. In another, it’s way off. See, pets do bring environmental factors into the house - minute amounts of dust, pollen, mud, and so on get carried around in a pet’s fur.

Thing is, this isn’t bad for a child - it’s actively good for them. Getting this kind of exposure to environmental factors ‘teaches’ a child’s immune system how to deal with them. Children who live in houses with pets tend to have fewer allergies, fewer coughs and colds, are less likely to develop asthma, and are generally more ‘robust’ than children who don’t have pets.

Dogs and cats are common household pets
Common household pets, such as cats and dogs, are usually best suited to interact with children because of their long history with people and for being
most interactive and playful. (Image: Pixabay)

Pets Teach Empathy, Responsibility, and Love

Every pet owner knows the huge rewards that animals can bring adults, in terms of unconditional love, and the joy of having something to care for. For children, this kind of love and care can be truly formative. Learning that an animal needs feeding, walking, cleaning etc if it is to survive and thrive is a gentle way to ease children into the concept of taking responsibility for something, and the duty of care (with an adult on hand, of course, to check that the animal is, in fact, getting everything it needs!).

Learning to communicate with and care about something which can’t communicate in quite the same way also instills a lot of ‘empathy circuits’ in the brain, and helps enormously with communication skills at a fundamental level. Not to mention that being loved by an animal is great for self-esteem. All in all, pets help children grow into compassionate, empathetic, responsible people.

Pets are Great for Mental Health

There have been several studies which prove that pet owners tend to be at lower risk of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions. The aforementioned love and care is hugely ‘grounding’, a big self-esteem boost, and tremendously comforting in stressful times. Stroking a pet is proven to lower blood pressure, and reduce levels of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) in the bloodstream. At a time when children are under a great deal of pressure, and concerns about childhood mental health are rising, the value of a pet in this respect cannot be underestimated.

Be sure that your new pet has everything it needs to be healthy and happy when you shop PetSmart. At the store you will find everything you need to give your pet the very best. From the food brands you know and trust to fun and entertaining toys to delicious treats, PetSmart has what you need to care for your new animal. Shop there today and with their partnership with Groupon Coupons you can save money on all those have to have pet essentials.

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