Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Pawsitive Effects of Raising Kids with Pets

Is your home without a pet? Are you worried about your little ones getting along with a furry companion? Don't! Studies show that pets are tremendously helpful with your children's development.

I grew up on a farm in South Carolina with horses, ducks, chickens, cows, dogs, cats, parrots... you name it, we had it. My furry and winged pals gave me the confidence to set out on numerous adventures from my first skinned knee to my first heart break. They were my best friends when I had no one else to talk to. 

Overall, an estimated 4 in 10 children begin life in a family with domestic animals, and as many as 90 percent of all kids live with a pet at some point during their childhood, says Gail F. Melson, PhD, professor emeritus of developmental studies at Purdue University, in Indiana, and the author of Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children.

So what are the benefits of pets in these kids lives?

1. Responsibility 

Pets rely completely on their families to feed them, give them water, clean up after them, and exercise them. This teaches kids early on how to take care of others and to be depended on. Kids who are present in the care of the animals typically learn to be more compassionate and empathetic. This in turn makes the kids better at taking care of themselves too! At an early age, kids can watch the parents and help as they are able taking on more responsibility as they get older. 

2. Learning

I used to line my stuffed animals up and my cat and play teacher. I would make fake tests and pass them out and grade their "answers" a.k.a. whatever answer I marked for them. I thought I was an especially imaginative child, but apparently this is very common and educators have brought animals (mostly dogs) into schools to help developmentally challenged kids learn. There is also a program called "Book Buddies" where kids read to sheltered cats at The Animal Rescue League of Berks County Pennsylvania. The kids feel less judged while honing their reading skills and the kitties get the comfort and play they need.

3. Health

For physical health, According to a study by Dennis Ownby, MD, a pediatrician and head of the allergy and immunology department of the Medical College of Georgia, in Augusta, having multiple pets actually decreases a child's risk of developing certain allergies. His research tracked a group of 474 babies from birth to about age 7. He found that the children who were exposed to two or more dogs or cats as babies were less than half as likely to develop common allergies as kids who had no pets in the home. Crazy, right?! 

Dr. Ownby has a theory: "When a child plays with a dog or a cat, the animals usually lick him," he says. "That lick transfers bacteria that live in animals' mouths, and the exposure to the bacteria may change the way the child's immune system responds to other allergens." 

For mental health, pets help with an array of mental disabilities. Did you know that a cat's purr is healing? No, seriously! Cat purr vibrations are in the 20 Hz to 140 Hz range, which means their purring itself can have a therapeutic effect! A 2011 survey by the Mental Health Foundation and Cats Protection found that 87 per cent of cat owners feel their pets have a positive impact on their well-being and 76 per cent find coping with everyday life easier thanks to their kitties. Sign me up!

4. Family Bonding

"Whenever I ask children and parents if their pets are truly part of the family, most of them seem surprised -- and almost offended -- at the question," Dr. Melson says. The most common response: "Of course they are!"

Pets can be the center of your activities as a family. A trip to the dog park, a camping trip, fishing, all are immensely more fun with a wagging overflowing happy tank along side you. Each family member shares in the responsibility of caring for the pet too which inspires communication and provides a commonality between everyone which is especially important during the teenage years.

You can't still be hesitant about sharing your home with one of those cute faces! What are you waiting for? Go get your new family member! 

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