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Family Dogs Reduce Stress and Increase Activity for Children With Disabilities

Everyone knows that “dogs are a man’s best friend”, but science has recently shown that they also reduce stress and boost activity for children with disabilities.

There are many benefits to having dogs as a family pet because they are a wonderful source of love, comfort and fun. While we intuitively grasp the positive impact that our furry friends have on our lives, recent studies have now shown that children with disability benefit from having a relationship with dogs, because they help increase their physical activity and reduce their stress levels.

Physical activity increases with canine companionship

A recent article in Science Daily looked at a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and an intervention program that involved the family dog.  It was shown that the little boy’s interactions with the dog led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills and quality of life.

Children with physical disabilities often spend less time in active play than other children do, and the family dog can serve as a trusted partner in physical activity programs. This can include things like grooming the dog with a brush, playing fetch with alternate hands, balancing on a wobble board and marching on a balancing disc.

The results of the case study were incredibly positive, and researchers found that the child’s quality of life had increased in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health – an outcome also reported by the parents. Additionally, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased quite considerably, and there was significantly more time spent on moderate to vigorous activity.

Family dogs also succeed at soothing stress and easing anxiety

There is nothing more comforting than a warm, furry cuddle from the family dog, and now we have the science to prove it. A new study has shown that children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling even less stressed compared to having a parent with them for social support (or having no social support at all).

Published in the respected journal “Animals”, the study from the University of Florida looked at approximately 100 pet-owning families who had children between the ages of 7 to 12 years. Children who solicited their family pet for affection or comfort had lower levels of cortisol – the body’s stress hormone – than children who engaged with their dogs less often.

The findings of this study would come as no surprise to dog owners, who are no doubt be well aware of the therapeutic benefits of the affection and unconditional love that dogs offer. With stress being a part of so many lives these days due to hectic schedules and day to day commitments, dog ownership creates the opportunity for people to slow down, connect and be in the moment.

The science might only just be catching up, but human beings have known the joy and beauty of dog ownership for many millennia. These studies just confirm what we’ve probably always suspected – that dogs can help reduce stress, improve the quality of life and increase the physical activity of children who have disabilities.

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