My husband desperately wants a dog. He grew up with dogs and believes every kid deserves an animal companion. Madi also loves being around animals – especially puppies. I don’t know whether or not we will get a dog in the coming years.  But the discussion of children and animals made me wonder if there was any possible health benefits of exposing young children to pets. 

Are there any medical benefits to having a dog?

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics 2015 suggested that exposure to dogs and farm animals during the first year of life reduces the risk of asthma in children at age 6 years.  This study supported early animal exposure. 

Another article published in 2015 in Preventing Chronic Disease explored whether pet dogs are positively associated with healthy weight and mental health in children. This study found that children with or without pet dogs do not differ significantly in weight, screen time or physical activity. Interestingly enough, children WITHOUT dogs have higher anxiety screening scores than children WITH dogs.  This study suggests that having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety. 

Are we getting a dog?

Based on my readings, there are physical and mental health benefits to having a pet dog. But even well-trained dogs can be unpredictable in situations that make them uncomfortable and I have seen children receive bites and scratches from their pets. The added responsibility is the main reason we haven’t decided to get a pet dog.  A young toddler, a new baby AND a new pet dog may be too much for us to handle at the moment.

This post was co-authored by  Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc and Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGP.

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