There’s no doubt that owning a dog is a lot of responsibility. But a new study might make you want to add a four-legged friend to your family, if you don’t have one already.
Researchers from the University of Florida found that children who grow up with dogs as pets feel less stressed than those who didn’t.
Approximately 100 pet-owning families came to the university’s lab with their pet dogs. The children underwent a public speaking task and a mental math task, which are scenarios that are known to raise feelings of stress in their kid’s lives.
The kids who participated in the study, aged between seven and 12 years, were randomly assigned to perform these tasks with either their dog or parent for social support, or by themselves without any support at all.
After taking the kids saliva samples and testing them for cortisol levels, the biological maker of stress, researchers found just how important the relationship with pets really are.
How dogs benefit kids health
“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida, said in a press release.
Ultimately, kids felt more relaxed if they had their dogs with them than if they were going through the experience alone or with their parents.
“Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” Kertes said.
“Because we know that learning to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences of emotional health and well-being, we need to better understand what works to buffer those stress responses early in life.”
Canadian youth and stress
The results of this study are particularly noteworthy for Canadians, given that anxiety is the leading mental health issue among Canadian children.
Currently, 3.2 million Canadians ages 12 to 19 are at risk for developing depression, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The good news is that even though you’re not a parent, dogs can still improve your health. Studies found that dog owners are known to walk more and are less likely to participate in recreational physical activities than non-dog owners.
Not a dog person? Cat owners are known to have reduced loneliness and depression than those who don’t.
And for those aged 65 and up, pets are still known to have a positive effect on their owner’s physical health, according to research conducted by the University of Guelph.
(Editor’s note: Doing yoga with your pet isn’t necessary, but is definitely recommended.)