Dogs may protect children from childhood anxiety, according to recent research published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A study by researchers from Bassett Medical Center in New York wanted to see if dogs helped children maintain healthy weights and benefited their mental health.
The study looked at 643 children aged 4 to 10 years, with an average age of 6.7 years. 73% had a pet, and 58% of the children had a dog. 21% did not have a pet at home.
The CDC study was conducted over an 18-month period in a pediatric primary care setting and they used DartScreen, an online test used to measure a child’s health risks.
Parents answered questions about the child’s physical activity, food, emotional difficulties, anxiety, behavior, concentration, and socio-economic background.
Their study found no difference in the body mass index (BMI) of children with or without a dog, so having a dog did not affect their physical activity.
However, their findings did reveal that children with a dog had lower anxiety scores than those who did not.
Of the children with a dog in the home, 12% tested positive for anxiety compared to 21% of children who did not.
Dogs create a bond with children that helps them in many ways. They stimulate conversation and facilitate social interactions. Dogs also help to increase levels of oxytocin (the hormone which plays a role in attachment and the mother-child bond) and decrease levels of cortisol (often present in the stress response).
Childhood mental illness, behavioral problems and obesity are significant public health problems in the US. One in eight children is said to suffer from anxiety.
Studies such as these help make the case that children who have a dog will have a decreased probability of childhood anxiety.
Future studies will investigate this relationship in more depth and look how dogs actually alleviate childhood anxiety.