Little boy and his dog

My wife and I raised our two children in an animal-rich environment. Dogs, cats, horses, and more — our children always had animals in their lives.

Since I’m a practicing veterinarian that’s probably not a surprise. But what may come as news to you is that children are better off with animals in their lives. And that’s not just the animal lover in me talking; that’s the scientist.

The Benefits of Pets to Kids

Research has shown time and again that animals are good for kids. Here’s why.

Pets may prevent allergies. An increasing body of research shows that being raised with pets not only helps prevent allergies to animals but also to other allergy triggers, such as ragweed. Who wants to decrease the odds of a lifetime of sniffling and wheezing? Everyone! This doctor’s advice: keep your pet.

Pets may help prevent obesity. We all know that the United States has an obesity problem and that children are now diagnosed with many of the health problems once seen only in overweight adults. Part of the problem, we’re told, is that children aren’t active enough; they’d rather play video games than go outside and play real ones. But an Australian study suggests that children with family dogs were less likely to be overweight or obese. This is probably because they play together — and not Wii.

Pets may improve grades. Another body of work suggests that children with pets have an advantage when it comes to science, in part because they enter school with observations of animals that give them a foundation on which to build. And children who practice reading to dogs — a popular program nationwide — improve their reading skills dramatically because dogs listen without criticism or correction and encourage interaction.

Pets teach responsibility. My children grew up caring for animals (and caring about them, too, of course), and I think it taught them a great deal about thinking about the needs of others. Responsibility is a tricky subject, though, and can become a tug-of-war between parents who want children to handle animal care and kids who don’t want to be nagged about their chores.

I always recommend that the primary responsibility for pets stays with parents and that the role of children in caring for their animals be matched with what’s appropriate for their children’s ages. In other words, don’t expect a first-grader to remember to clean and fill a water dish every day. Older children can handle harder tasks, and some will relish the chance to take on more in caring for their pets. Encourage them in their grown-up behavior.

Pets teach unconditional love. This is the one benefit of having pets that everyone knows. Pets are always there for children, never need a reason to listen, and never criticize. Growing up can be difficult, and many times children just need to talk and be listened to. There’s nothing better for that than a purring cat or a tail-wagging dog. To pets, children are always perfect just the way they are.

A Personal Note

My daughter is now raising her own child with the same respect for and love of animals her mother and I raised her with. I’m proud of her, and I’m delighted to show off this little video of my granddaughter’s first words. As you can see, Reagan’s siblings are dogs and her first words? A bark! What can I say? In our family we love our pets!