Five Reasons to Bring a Pet into Your Child’s Life

Little boy hugging a Golden Retriever dog

Considering adding a pet to your household? If you have a child with a disability, the benefits of owning a pet can be significant. In fact, research has shown that pets can help children with physical and developmental disabilities in myriad ways. Here’s what the science says:

1. Pets encourage increased physical activity.
A 2017 case study at Oregon State University found that a program that incorporated the family dog into an exercise program for a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy “led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions.” Said study co-author Megan MacDonald: “They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child.”

2. Pets help children with autism to form connections with others
Many children with autistic spectrum disorders have difficulty connecting to other people. Studies show that autistic children in homes with pet dogs, learn to make such connections. For example, a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatric Nursing, found that in families with dogs, 94 percent of children “were bonded” with them. And “children living with dogs interacted with them in play and/or sharing personal space,” noted researchers. In addition, having a pet also gave children an “opportunity to learn responsibility and companionship.”

3. Guinea pigs help to improve social skills
Can’t manage caring for a dog right now? How about a guinea pig, hamster, gerbil or even a turtle?  A study conducted at the Autism Resource Center at Hospital Bohars in France found that autistic children from families that owned pets “were better able to share toys and food with both parents and other kids and better able to comfort others than the pet-less children were.”

4. Pets reduce stress and improve mood in children with learning disabilities and ADHD
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.”

5. Fish tanks can be therapeutic for children with disruptive behaviors.
The calming effects of watching fish swim in a fish tank reduces behavioral problems in children with emotional and behavioral disabilities according to a study at the University of Pennsylvania. Other studies have shown that gazing at fish tanks also reduces anxiety as well as heart rate and blood pressure.