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Pet Love a Priceless, Healthy-Giving Gift

I am a big animal lover. My pet of choice is a dog and we have had one in my home since I was a young child.

A quick scan of friends and family will confirm that about 60% of homes in Canada house a family pet and many of these homes have children.

Although there has long been a belief that animal/human relationships hold many benefits for the humans, studies are now attempting to identify how this happens. It is interesting to note that Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a proponent of the health benefits that domestic animals could stimulate in the sick following a pet visit.

Research about children and pets has produced some fairly impressive findings. Evidence indicates that children who have pets are more likely to have higher self-esteem, more self-confidence, and a better ability to understand non-verbal communication. Kids with pets have better social skills and are more empathetic than those kids who do not have a pet in the home.

Scientists also identified that pets are stress-busters for kids. A close connection with a pet lowers heart rate and blood pressure. This can be attributed to the lowering of cortisol in the body and the increased endorphins that follow positive interaction with a pet.

To put it simply, kids feel good when they are communicating with a beloved pet. Pets give unconditional love in a way that humans have to work really hard to achieve.

Having a pet is also a great educational experience for a child. Teaching moments can happen every day when the pet needs food, exercise, attention and guidance. Children need to understand that a pet is a living creature, not a toy. As a child builds a close relationship with her pet, she will learn about friendship and companionship. Nurturing is a part of caring for a pet and this is an important life lesson for children who start out in the world as pretty egocentric.

There are a few cautions around having pets in the home, particularly dogs. When a new baby comes home, parents need to be aware that the dog may not take to this small moving unidentified person. A dog can instinctively want to 'hunt' and stalk the baby. Never leave a dog alone with a new baby.

As for toddlers, they will want to pinch, pull and climb on the pet. It is important to show your toddler how to be gentle and loving with the family pet. Your pet may have lots of tolerance but there is a limit to everyone's patience, even the most loving of animals. Supervise small children when they are playing with a pet.

Choose the right pet for your family, value your pets and teach your children to respect and care for all members of the family, including Fido and Puss. Pet love is a priceless gift that can make you and your children healthier people.