Why Fido Just Might Be the Remedy You're Looking For

By Clinical Nurse Specialist Anna Katzman, GalTime.com

Pets also come with health benefits for your family! Pets also come with health benefits for your family!

If you've been dodging the bullet for years, extolling the virtues of your Beta fish to your kids, "Look! He responds to you when you go to feed him!", as if he's a real, snuggly pet, or anything other than the cold-blooded vertebrate just eating for survival that he is… you now have one more reason to get a dog.

A new study from Finland, by Bergroth et al, Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts, has just discovered that dogs - and cats - are good for children's health. More specifically, the recent study found that "children with early dog contacts seem to have fewer infectious respiratory symptoms and diseases, especially otitis, during the first year of life."

If you're still not ready for a dog, however, don't ditch the fish. He is a pet, after all, and research consistently shows what the 61% of households in America (which is the percentage of households with pets), already knows: Pets are good for us!

Related: Paws-itive News: Fostering a Pet is Tax Deductible!

If you have a child between the ages of 6 and 16, there is a 2-4 x greater probability that you already have a dog or a cat, says Dr. Alan Beck, professor of animal ecology and Director for The Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University. And, there is certainty that your child is benefitting in many ways…

Children use pets as "confidantes", especially younger children, as they have not yet acquired the communication skills with which to confide in their peers. Pets provide an outlet for kids' secrets and fears. What's more, they don't judge, criticize, or interrupt and thus provide a safe outlet. Children with reading problems, for example, can read to pets and not experience performance anxiety while doing so.

Pet ownership and care is particularly important for the young male child, Dr. Beck indicates, because while our society doesn't have many "nurture games" for boys, such as "playing house" for girls, taking care of animals is a gender-free activity.

While pets are great for children, their benefits are not limited to kids…

The family: "There're very few hobbies that actually involve the whole family. When you go to dog shows or have a pet, it's very often a family activity....Animals are an integrating activity for the general family. Because they're members of the family," states Dr. Beck.

Related: Making Time for Fido Fitness

Single women: While having a pet is more common in married versus unmarried people, pets have been observed to be good for some single people. A study by Zasloff and Kidd found that for single women, having a pet can reduce loneliness and can make up for the lack of human companionship in the home: Women "living entirely alone were significantly more lonely than those living with pets only, with both other people and pets, and with other people but without pets."

People with Alzheimer's Disease: The study, Animal-Assisted Therapy and Nutrition in Alzheimer's Disease, by Edwards & Beck, showed a calming effect of aquariums upon people with Alzheimer's Disease, accompanied by a positive effect on their nutritional intake, resulting in beneficial weight gain.
PTSD patients: "We use focus of attention with PTSD patients - we give them animals, have them walk dogs…Giving them a focus of caring for something keeps them in the present reminds them of the value of life and giving care. Caring is a very positive thing, " explains Dr. Beck.

Everyone: Petting a dog can decrease your blood pressure by triggering "the relaxation response", studies by Dr. Beck have demonstrated. Pets pull you into the present, focus your attention: "One of the easiest ways of having a focus of attention is looking at nature....Because we're animals, we're drawn to nature. Pets are 'nature on demand'", says Beck.

Apparently, they're health on demand as well.

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Anna Katzman is a Clinical Nurse Specialist in psychiatry, certified in child and adolescent mental health and a freelance writer for GalTime.