There is no question that owning a pet is a serious commitment. Pets require time, money and patience, among other things. But do the benefits of pet ownership outweigh the liabilities?
Research seems to suggest that having a family pet, especially a dog, has so many positive influences that it is hard to deny that adding a furry friend to your family would be a very good step in the right direction.
- Pets can build character - Caring for a pet is a wonderful way for a young child to learn to be more responsible. Pets must be fed, exercised and given attention at certain times of the day, and it’s not always when the child feels like doing those things. A young child can learn about empathy by caring for an animal that needs his/her love and kindness. Even the youngest of children can have a job that involves caring for the pet.
- Increased exercise – Dogs especially will require the family to get up off the couch, away from the electronics and go outside. Whether for a walk around the neighborhood, a trip to a park or on a hike or bike ride, a dog is a constant reminder to get outside every day for some fresh air and exercise.According to research on the physical activity levels of 2,071 children in England, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, having a pet was strongly correlated with being more active — a great antidote to hours spent sitting in front of a computer. This relationship between pet ownership and physical activity holds true even for teens, a notoriously tough group to get moving.
- Healthy hearts – Cats can be helpful too! It seems that having a pet to “pet” and to pamper is a soothing experience for most people and can actually improve heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, getting a pet can lead to healthier triglycerides and blood pressure levels. Results from a 20-year health study found that having a cat offered protection against severe heart disease. Other studies show that having a dog helps to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, according to a research review published in Frontiers in Psychology.
- Allergy relief – According toJonathon Gold, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University in Lansing, research has shown that a dog or cat in the home could reduce long-term risk for allergy. One study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, found that having a cat in the home reduced the likelihood of wheezing, a symptom of allergic response, among infants and toddlers. However, dog and cat dander are strong asthma and allergy triggers for some people, so don’t ignore this risk if you or another family member already has an allergy.
- Family members with special needs - For children with special needs such as autism, a pet can be a wonderful companion. Autistic children often struggle in social situations and feel isolated. Having a pet can be a great comfort to them. Also, a recent study published in the journal Seizure looked at the benefits of family pet ownership in households with someone living with epilepsy. Researchers found that having a pet reduced seizures and may reduce stress and improve patients’ coping skills. This in turn reduced the impact of epilepsy and, possibly, other chronic conditions.
On a more serious note:
Naturally, the decision to bring a pet into the family is a long-term commitment and a major decision that should be taken very seriously. Dr. Gold warns families that a dog is still an animal, and no matter how gentle a dog seems, small children should never be left alone with them.
He warns that most dog bites come from the family’s own dog and that even the most well trained pet can be provoked when mistreated. Children need to be taught whenever around pets to speak quietly, move slowly and always treat pets gently.
But with the necessary planning and training (of both pets and humans), a pet can be a welcome addition to a family, contributing years of unconditional love and companionship!