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Can Dogs Ease Anxiety in Children?

We all know that dog’s make great companions for people of all ages and have even been shown to lower blood pressure in adults, but can owning a dog be directly linked to less anxiety in children?

A study published recently in the medical journal Preventing Chronic Disease shows that families with a dog have children that are much less likely to suffer from chronic fear and anxiety.

The study researchers looked at almost 650 children aged 18 months and older who were screened for anxiety. Of those children, 58 percent had a dog at home.

Only 12 percent of children with dogs tested positive for anxiety, compared with 21 percent of those without dogs, the researchers at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., found.

Having a dog may reduce a child’s anxiety — particularly social and separation anxieties — in a number of ways, such as by triggering conversations and helping break the ice with new people, the researchers suggested. However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect link between dogs and lower anxiety levels in children.

“Interacting with a friendly dog also reduces cortisol levels, most likely through oxytocin release, which lessens physiologic responses to stress,” the researchers wrote. “These hormonal effects may underlie the observed emotional and behavioral benefits of animal-assisted therapy and pet dogs.”