Choosing a family pet might seem an odd topic for a psychologist to consider. However, pets are increasingly being seen as very therapeutic, for a whole variety of family members, not just toddlers. In terms of kids, various pets are used to specific, beneficial treatment for kids with anxiety, autism, hyperactivity problems and emotional problems. These pets come in many varying forms, from specifically trained “assistance” pets, to just simply well-chosen family pets.
Psychologists have been examining the benefits of pets. Varied research has shown that pets are non-judgmental and give love freely, therefore they are effective in reducing stress and in providing comfort, when kids are distressed. In our increasingly traumatic world, kid’s anxiety and stress levels are reduced when they can pet a loved animal, at a time of trauma.
Interestingly, kids with special needs interestingly respond to a wide variety of pets. As an example, many kids with autism have responded to having slightly odd pets, such as a horse. Similarly, toddlers with language delays or developmental delays have shown improved self esteem, even when only interacting with a passive pet, such as fish in an aquarium, or birds in an aviary.
Pets and your health
Some parents are worried about health issues of having pets, but pets are generally healthy for families. Some parents understandably worry that pets aren’t clean. However, the Royal Children’s Hospital, in Melbourne, has reported that kids with pets generally have fewer minor illnesses and ailments. Similarly, a study through Georgia Medical College found that having multiple pets actually reduced the likelihood of kids, from one to seven years of age, having common allergies. The Royal Children’s Hospital also reported that kids with pets are more physically active and less likely to be overweight or obese, as well as there being more harmony in the family.
Psychologists are well aware that hyperactive kids and kids with anger problems are generally calmer and less aggressive, when they interact positively with pets. Of course, it is important that pets be chosen carefully, as not all pets suit all households, especially when we are talking about over active toddlers.
Sadly, busy, active families often choose a yappy dog, which only adds more mayhem to the family. Further, an overactive dog will often only over stimulate a hyperactive lad, or lead to an injury, such as a dog bite. In contrast, such a busy family would be better choosing a gentle cat, calming fish or a dog with a quiet, calm personality.
Which pet to choose
Choosing a family pet, while your kids are toddlers, also takes extra consideration, to ensure a pet’s safety and wellbeing. Most toddlers are somewhat excitable, impulsive and inquisitive. Further, as parents well know, toddlers push boundaries and like to experiment. The result is that some pets can be too easily frightened by an over exuberant toddler, or a gentle cat might strike back, when its ears are pulled one too many times.
In terms of dogs, general research suggest that mid size to larger dogs are more tolerant of toddler’s rough play. Similarly, mixed breeds are seen as being more tolerant with highly bred pure-breeds, especially where the breed mix includes a dog breed that is known for being calm and tolerant.
Cats are slightly different. Many cats are just not tolerant of being constantly poked and patted by toddlers. However, certain pure breeds are theoretically calmer and more content to play, such as Persians, Maine Coons, Birmans and similar breeds. Interestingly, several of the major cat food production companies have free “Choose a Cat” website guides.
Fish are generally seen as being calming, but also positively stimulating, for toddlers. Fish are also a great way to start, as they are not as expensive as other pets and they allow you to test how much your toddler is willing to help and be involved, such as in feeding, occasional cleaning, etc.
Dogs have been shown to give the greatest amount of unconditional love and comfort. Further, they help kids most in building social skills and with being active and healthy. However, more dogs are returned than other animals, most often due to the fact that they did not suit the family. Therefore, choosing a dog takes more consideration.
It seems simple advice, but choosing the cutest puppy, out of the pet shop window, is fraught with danger. Too often, such an impulsive choice is a poor choice. A far better option is to try to arrange to spend time with a puppy, before finally bringing it home, to check its suitability. The highly respected RSPCA has an excellent “Smart Puppy Buyers Guide”. There are other great websites, to help choose the best breed for your family. Now, having finished giving you this advice, I’m off to feed the dogs and to put the chooks to bed!!