Study: Children With Dogs Suffer From Less Anxiety

Next time your child asks for a puppy, you should think twice before instantly saying no. According to a new study, children who have pets, particularly dogs, suffer from less anxiety than those who don’t have a four-legged friend.

Basset Medical Center, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and Dartmouth Medical School recently conducted a study on 643 children ages six and seven in a pediatric primary care setting. The results were shocking. Two percent of children with dogs experienced anxiety symptoms, compared to 21 percent of children who did not have a dog, the Huffington Post reports.

The study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, was conducted over an 18-month time period. Prior to the analysis, the children’s parents completed a comprehensive health risk screening. They answered questions about their child’s body mass index, physical and mental health, screen time, and pet status. Of the 643 children in the study, 73 percent of the families had a pet, with 58 percent of those being dogs.

According to Performwell.org, the Screen for Anxiety Related Emotional Disorders (SCARED)-Child Report test consists of 41 questions for the child’s parent or caregiver to answer, indicating how often a “descriptive phrase regarding how their child may have felt over the course of the previous three months is true.” The parents can answer “Not True or Hardly Ever True,” “Somewhat True or Sometimes True,” and “Very True or Often True.” The test is used to determine if a child has a panic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, social phobia, general anxiety disorder, and symptoms related to school phobias.

“Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component (‘My child is afraid to be alone in the house’) and social anxiety component (‘My child is shy’) favoring pet ownership,” Dr. Anne Gadomski and her colleagues wrote.

“Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children’s mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment,” Gadomski added, explaining that a child having a pet dog can stimulate conversation for children which relieves the social anxiety a child might experience.

The researchers said they chose to focus the study on dogs because there is already so much research on them. While the study did not include any other pets, Gadomski and her team said there is no proof that other pets, such as cats, couldn’t have the same effect on children.

“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 added.

Gadomski’s study is just the latest study on child-dog relationships. As the Inquisitr previously reported, dogs can lower the risks of children developing asthma before the age of six.

Researchers studied more than one million Swedish children from 2001 through 2010 and found that those who grew up with dogs in the home were 15 percent less likely to develop asthma than those who were not exposed to dogs at a young age. Additionally, those who grew up around farm animals were 52 percent less likely to develop asthma.

The study, which was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, included 276,000 school-age children, 22,000 who lived with a parent who owned a dog within the child’s first year of life. The study also included approximately 950 school-age children with a parent who worked with farm animals. Out of the 276,000 kids, only about 11,600 of them experienced an asthmatic episode during their seventh year of life.

“Our results confirmed the farming effect and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs,” lead study author Tove Fall of Uppsala University in Sweden said. “Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status.”

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