Next time your child asks for a puppy, you might want to say yes. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that children with dogs in the home have a significantly lower risk for stress and anxiety than children without dogs. The findings contribute to a growing body of knowledge about limiting the effects of stress in children.
For 18 months, the researchers followed 643 children between the ages of 4 and 10 years. Parents provided information about their children’s body mass index (BMI), physical activity levels, screen time, and mental health. The researchers also tested children’s stress and anxiety levels using the Screen for Child Anxiety and Related Disorders (SCARED).
On most of the metrics, the children with and without dogs in the home were similar. There were no significant differences in BMI, screen time, or physical activity levels between children with dogs and children without dogs. However, only 12 percent of the children who had dogs at home (58 percent of the study cohort) tested positive for stress and anxiety. In comparison, 21 percent of children without dogs tested positive for stress and anxiety.
“Pet dogs could reduce childhood anxiety, particularly social and separation anxiety, by various mechanisms. A pet dog can stimulate conversation—an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect. Companionship with a pet can alleviate separation anxiety and strengthen attachment,” state the researchers.
The study gathered data from a relatively broad sample of young people in a real-world environment, but it was limited by basing its results on parental reports. The data suggest that there may be a cause-effect relationship between dogs in the home and children’s anxiety, but the study is not conclusive. More research is needed to understand how to make children’s formative years less stressful.
This research is published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
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