4 Ways a Dog Can Improve Your Child’s Health
Today’s post is written by a new contributor, Vee Cecil, a fitness advocate and dog lover.
Most parents consider getting a family dog because they help to teach responsibility and empathy to children. Chores such as giving the dog food and water, taking him for walks, giving him a bath and brushing him are good for kids, and in the process, they learn to care for the dog and make emotional connections with him. Parents may not realize, though, that dogs are also great for their children’s overall health. Read on for four of the most important ways that dogs can make your child healthier.
1. Dogs Protect Against Infection
A recent study from the University of California, San Francisco found that microbial agents in dust in homes with a dog seem to protect against an infection that is a common respiratory virus associated with kids developing asthma. One of the researchers hypothesized “that microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonize the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses, and protect the host.” Other research is supporting the findings that kids who are in contact with dogs have fewer infections and colds and need fewer antibiotics.
These researchers are learning that early exposure to dogs effectively kicks kids’ immune systems into gear, helping them to more successfully ward off illnesses. Scientists also are considering whether these improved health benefits extend into adulthood.
2. Dogs Help Kids to Be More Active
The CDC reports that childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2012, more than 33 percent of children and adolescents in the United States were overweight or obese. The health effects of childhood obesity include risk factors for cardiovascular disease including high cholesterol or high blood pressure, diabetes, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems.
One way to combat childhood obesity is to get a dog. As studies from the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine show, kids with dogs engage in more moderate to vigorous activity than kids without dogs. Spending time playing with a dog outside and walking the dog has a positive impact on the whole family, but kids especially love to run and play chase with dogs.
3. Dogs Lessen the Symptoms of ADHD
Kids who have ADHD often have excessive amounts of energy and have difficulty completing tasks. They often also have lower self-esteem. Pairing therapy dogs with kids with ADHD is a relatively new use of service dogs, but programs offering “certified play therapy canine companions” are having huge success with kids with ADHD. The benefits of pairing children with ADHD with dogs include encouraging them to think about a living creature other than themselves, developing and strengthening fine motor skills as they care for the dog, and increasing the amount of exercise they get when walking and playing with the dog. Having a dog in the family is also a great way to provide a child with ADHD with more judgment-free, unconditional love.
4. Improving Child Development with a Dog
As kids learn and grow, they need to develop skills that will successfully carry them into adulthood. A healthy relationship with a dog can help kids to develop better nurturing skills, responsibility, empathy, a caring attitude, and communication. When kids interact with dogs and develop loving relationships with them, they care for the animals in much the same way that parents care for their children. Not only does the child enjoy the dog’s companionship, but a child with a dog also gains comfort, self-esteem, and confidence. They often have improved social skills and are more likely to be physically active as well.
The emotional health and development of children is just as important as their physical health. Adding a dog to the mix is one more way a parent can improve a child’s development and emotional health.
Many of the emotional health benefits kids gain when they play with and take care of a dog improve their development and set them up to be more stable, healthy adults. Kids also benefit physically when they own and play with dogs, which is important as childhood obesity rates rise. Parents should definitely be aware of the emotional and physical health benefits associated with kids caring for dogs and how they greatly improve a child’s overall health.
Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. Vee is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog.