“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
This famous quote from French poet Anatole France was written in the Victorian age but still rings true today. If you are an animal lover, interested in learning about scientific data on animals and kids, or thinking of adopting an animal for your family, read on!
The amazing benefits and surprising therapeutic perks are only the beginning. There are many reasons pets are good for kids. They can enrich your child’s life in ways that you may not have considered.
Overall Health Benefits
From the CDC, to the American Heart Association, to the NIH and Harvard Medical School, the results are in. You will find overwhelming scientific research that proves the health benefits of owning and taking care of a pet. If you are a life-long pet owner, you probably know this!
Dog owners and their kids are far more likely to exercise daily, because dogs need to be walked and played with no matter the weather. Health professionals recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. You can reach this benchmark (and easily more) with the companionship of a dog. You will notice that being outside, getting fresh air on your face and moving briskly will start a cumulative effect that can develop a healthy routine. Decreasing blood pressure is only the start.
Being outside you will start to meet other dog walkers and see there is a community around dog walking and hiking with dogs, especially in the Reno-Tahoe area. There are many amazing trails to explore that I have written about in a previous post.
Kids are looking to their parents for guidance on how to lead a healthy lifestyle. Having a dog can help you reach your daily fitness goals.
I mentioned that walking briskly with your dog every day will in turn decrease your blood pressure and encourage you to meet others out on the trail. Especially as we enter into year two of Covid-19, it is more important than ever to spend time outside and stick to healthy routines.
Surprisingly, the emotional connection you have with your pet— dog, cat, horse, farm animal or small animal— will increase your brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and tranquility. We know animals are loyal, have no agenda (other than to love us), and are keenly aware of our moods and emotions. They do not criticize, they only love unconditionally.
Do you consider fish a pet? They are the third most popular pet after dogs and cats! There is a peaceful feeling you get when watching fish swim in an aquarium. Have you noticed this? Science has proven that watching fish swim can reduce stress and calm your heart rate. (why you often see aquariums in hospitals and dental offices).
In these trying times, companionship is so important. Owning a pet can comfort your family, reduce loneliness, bring joy, and help children learn impulse control and kindness.
Compassion and empathy can be learned by taking care of an animal that is helpless, earning it’s trust, watching it grow, and protecting it from harm.
We all are familiar with the exceptional skills that service dogs bring to the blind and disabled. Specially trained dogs can detect an approaching seizure, sniff out a drop in blood sugar, bring medication, or alleviate a stressful situation for their owner.
Dogs have even been known to sniff out cancer in their owner before it is traditionally detected. Therapy dogs visit hospitals to comfort children and the elderly.
I mentioned that owning a pet and taking care of it can help kids improve their impulse control. Many studies have concluded that kids with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and separation anxiety can be greatly helped by their deep (non-verbal) connection with an animal.
The love and companionship of an animal can help a child develop a positive self image, by feeling important and capable.
When a child is struggling with reading, reading aloud to a pet is a proven strategy to gain confidence and for the child to feel safe from criticism. There are many programs connected with libraries that provide this service, even here in Washoe County.
Horses are used for therapy too. Their sheer size can help a child feel empowered just by learning to groom, handle a horse, and ride. There is research coming out based on the electromagnetic field emitted by a horse’s heart— a much greater field than our own. A horse’s heart is between 9-12 lbs. so you can imagine that simply being in proximity of a calm horse can influence a restorative rhythm, counteracting anxiety.
Equine therapy for autism involves a child riding a calm horse such as this— a horse that has a heartbeat of 34 beats per minute for example. When riding a calm horse, simply feeling the rocking and swaying motion of the horse’s gaits is comfort. Add to that— no demand for eye contact, an absence of sensory triggers, and being outside in the fresh air. You can imagine how useful this therapy can be.
When a stressed brain is constantly bombarded with cortisol, panic and anxiety ensues. The anecdote is an emotional connection with an animal— as I mentioned it increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and tranquility.
Feeding and taking care of a pet helps a child learn responsibility. Daily routines with animals are so important. Feeding at the same times each day, providing clean water, brushing, cleaning up after, playing with, walking, and attending vet exams and appointments keep your animal healthy.
Getting your child involved in these attainable tasks early can help form a strong bond with the animal. It’s also a way to increase confidence and a feeling of being capable.
Adopt, Don’t Shop
Reno has some amazing nonprofit animal shelters and rescue groups. The best compiled list I’ve found for NV and Washoe County is Maddie’s Pet Project.
By adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue you will free up space for another animal in need to to find a forever home. You will get a great companion.
Most pets in shelters are happy, healthy animals just waiting for someone to take them home. It won’t break the bank. Adoption fees are much less than the cost to purchase a purebred.
Animals from rescues are spayed, behavior evaluated, vaccinated, treated for parasites, tested for life-threatening disease, and micro-chipped.
Shelters and rescues have a 100% return policy. If there is an issue with the adoption you are free to bring the animal back.
Something to Think About
It should be mentioned that owning a pet is not for everyone. Animals take a great deal of time and attention and should only be adopted when a family is truly ready. An adoption counselor at a shelter or rescue can provide insight to help you determine if your family is ready to adopt.
The pros of owning and taking care of animals are many, as I’ve listed, but it is true not every family can take on this time and cost commitment. This article gives an estimate of costs of dog and cat ownership, per year, and for a lifetime.
I have been an animal lover since as early as I can remember. Without knowing it, I was connecting deeply to the animals I had at home and that I took care of— family dogs, a stray cat, horses, an abandoned bird, a parrot, rats, hamsters, a guinea pig. I was comforted greatly by their presence.
I had no idea why I preferred the company of a horse to my peers— when as a young adult I suffered severe anxiety. I know now that I was seeking something calm and safe. The quietness, unconditional love, and electromagnetic field that surrounded me in the presence of animals steadied me.
I now share this love of animals with my husband and son. There is nothing better than seeing my son grow up surrounded by the love and companionship of animals.
I am intrigued by the scientific data on animals and kids, and I hope you are too. The benefits and therapeutic perks of animals can enrich your child’s life in interesting ways. What ways have your animals made an impact on your life?
Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.