What Parents Should Know About Pets
By Dr. Marty Becker | August 13, 2012
Every parent knows the feeling: It all goes by so quickly. You’re newlyweds, then you’re the parents of small children. Turn around again and you’re empty-nesters. And then … grandparents.
My wife and I are grandparents now, and everyone who knows us knows we’re madly in love with our granddaughter. Give me five minutes and I’ll show her picture, followed by those of our beloved pets. There is nothing more important to me than being a good husband, a good father, a good grandfather — and, yes, a good veterinarian.
From the vantage point of seeing so many children grow up to have children of their own, I offer five things this veterinarian (father, grandfather and husband of more than 30 years) wants every parent to know about pets and children.
Your Pet Can Be Your Child's Best Friend
Pets are nonjudgmental, loyal, loving and always excited to be with their people. Unlike classmates, friends or even, at times, family members, a pet will love your child unconditionally. Rich or poor, tall or short, under- or overweight, porcelain skin or pimples, smart or struggling in class, popular or pariah, athlete or academic: We all need unconditional love. Pets are also doggedly loyal; a pet will never leave your child because he's tired or a better offer came along.
Pets Teach Responsibility
Animals need to be fed, watered, groomed, exercised and played with, and they need medical care and love. They're not like the newest video game or toy that can be enjoyed for a while and then left to be forgotten on a shelf. Although you should never allow a pet to be cared for exclusively or primarily by a child, pets can help children understand how to nurture. Pets need care, constantly and consistently, and they teach children to give to others.
A Pet Can Teach Your Child About the Circle of Life
At each stage of life, a pet provides valuable lessons. For example, adopting a pet from a shelter is an opportunity to talk with your child about homelessness and a forever, loving home. A pet can also offer parents a way to talk with a child about death. For many of us, the loss of a pet is the first of many such losses we will all experience in our lives. A pet can teach your child that it’s important to love and just as important to grieve. A pet can also teach children that compassion needs to be extended beyond our own species.
Pets Provide Physical Contact
In our lives, we are not always sure when touch is acceptable and when it’s not. But not with our pets: They always love our touch, always welcome it. Anyone of any age can kiss a dog or cat and say "I love you!" and nobody thinks anything of it. We need touch, and “heavy petting” is always fine with our pets.
Pets Are Good for Our Health
Pets are life support systems. Pets don't just make us feel good. They're good for us. Being around pets in early childhood lessens the severity of allergies, asthma and eczema. Pets can blunt chronic pain; fight depression; lower cholesterol; decrease blood pressure; lower the risk of heart disease or stroke; improve survivability of a heart attack; help treat ADHD, anxiety and PTSD; detect seizures; help Parkinson's patients; and even detect cancer. Adding a pet to your growing family is one way to protect your child's health — and your own.