Pet Dogs Help Children Feel Less Stressed

Your furry, four-legged friend may be doing more good than you thought. A new study shows that pet dogs help reduce levels of stress in children.

That’s welcome news for many children and parents around the country, because about 40 percent of families with young kids have a dog. While those numbers support the dog’s position as a much-loved member of the family, scientific research has been light on making the case with real, hard data.

With the new study, researchers from the University of Florida have given dog owners a reason to reward their pups with an extra treat or two.

“Many people think pet dogs are great for kids but scientists aren’t sure if that’s true or how it happens,” said study author Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor in the Psychology department at the University of Florida.

For the study, researchers intentionally placed children between the ages of 7 and 12 into stressful situations, such as public speaking and having to solve difficult arithmetic problems. Then they paired some of the children with their dog, while other children had a parent present. A third group of children had to perform the tasks alone.

The researchers wanted to compare how different social supports — or none at all — affected levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the children. After testing the children’s cortisol levels with saliva samples, the researchers discovered that the group of children with dogs present had a positive reaction — even better than having a parent there.

“Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out,” Kertes said. “Children who had their pet dog with them reported feeling less stressed compared to having a parent for social support or having no social support.”

The researchers also found that the way in which the children interacted with their pet dogs led to divergent results.

“Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less,” said Kertes. “When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children’s cortisol tended to be higher.”

The results are leading researchers to believe that dogs can play an important role in helping children mature. Other studies have shown that canines can help kids improve their “autonomy, self-concept and empathy.”

“Middle childhood is a time when children’s social support figures are expanding beyond their parents, but their emotional and biological capacities to deal with stress are still maturing,” said Kertes. “Because we know that learning to deal with stress in childhood has lifelong consequences for emotional health and well-being, we need to better understand what works to buffer those stress responses early in life.”

The next time you want to send your pooch to the doghouse, you may want to think twice. It appears your dog is doing some nifty character-building work behind the scenes.

“How we learn to deal with stress as children has lifelong consequences for how we cope with stress as adults,” said Kertes.

The Role Pets Play in Managing Our Mental Health

Taking care of a pet can often feel like a full-time job, but have you ever stopped to think about how they also take care of us?

According to a new study, our pets serve to comfort us when we need it the most, especially for people with mental illnesses. When asked what helped them manage their condition, many people said their pets helped the most.

“Many felt deep emotional connections with their pet that weren’t available from friends and family,” said Helen Brooks, a mental health researcher at the University of Manchester in the U.K. and lead author of the study, to NPR.

The researchers interviewed 54 people with serious long-term mental illnesses. Of the group, 25 of the participants considered their pets part of their social network.

“When I’m feeling really low they are wonderful because they won’t leave my side for two days,” said one study participant with two dogs and two cats. “They just stay with me until I am ready to come out of it.”

The participants were asked who they went to for help or advice, where they gained emotional support and encouragement, and how they spent their days. They were then given a diagram to complete. The diagram had three consecutive circles surrounding a square in the middle to represent the participant.

They were asked to write the people, places and things that gave them support into the circles, with the circles closest to the center being the most important. Sixty percent of people placed their pets in the central circle, next to family.

“I think it’s really hard when you haven’t had a mental illness to know what the actual experience is [like],” said one participant. “There’s like a chasm, deep chasm between us … [Other people are] on one side of it, and we’re on the other side of it. We’re sending smoke signals to each other to try and understand each other but we don’t always — we don’t always understand.”

Brooks said many individuals with mental illness find themselves isolated. They start to see less of their friends and pets can give affection without understanding the disorder, she said.

“[Pets] don’t look at the scars on your arms,” said one participant. “They don’t question where you’ve been.”

In addition to providing emotional support and closeness, the participants also said their animals distract them from their illness. One participant placed his pet birds in his closest social circle.

“They help me in the sense, you know, I’m not thinking about the voices, I’m just thinking of when I hear the birds singing,” the participant said.

Mark Longsjo, program director of adult services at McLean Southeast, an inpatient mental facility in Middleborough, Massachusetts, said the participant interviews reflect his professional experiences.

“I think there’s significant value in considering the common everyday pet to be as important as the relationships one has with one’s family in the course of their treatment,” he said.

The pets also keep people from withdrawing from the world. One participant said their cats keep them involved, while another said getting out of the house to walk the dog helps.

“That surprised me, you know, the amount of people that stop and talk to him, and that, yeah, it cheers me up with him,” the participant said. “I haven’t got much in my life, but he’s quite good, yeah.”

Bianca Animal Shelter

Bianca Animal Shelter is a private Portuguese association, a registereBianca Animal Shelterd charity with a public utility status, whose objective is to rescue dogs and cats and to rehome them to good homes.

Bianca runs a shelter for around 250 dogs and has 50 cats in “temporary families”. The shelter is in Sesimbra – a coastal city 30 km south of Lisbon.

Bianca receives around 30 new animals every month. It is always a struggle to keep a reasonable number of them in the shelter and to be able to rehome as many as possible every month.

Many animals that we receive are in a very bad state: after an accident, with broken bones and wounds, puppies and kittens found dehydrated in garbage bins, animals physically abused. We count with the help of the vets who give us discounted prices but nevertheless our monthly veterinary bills are significant.

Every animal that is given for adoption from our kennel is vaccinated, dewormed and has a chip. All adult female dogs and cats are sterilised and many male dogs and cats castrated. Female puppies and kittens are given for adoption on the basis of an adoption contract in which the new owner obliges himself to have them sterilised when they reach the right age.

How can you help :

1. You can adopt a dog or cat. This is our primary objective – to find a loving home to those animals that have never had a good one. They have plenty of love to give and they will be eternally grateful. Do not worry about the distance, if you live in Algarve or Central Portugal, we can try to bring the animal to you.

2. If you cannot adopt, you can offer a temporary home to puppies until they complete vaccinations, or to old dogs that find it very difficult to live in rough conditions in the shelter, or to sick dogs in recovery, or to kittens and cats.

3. If you cannot adopt, you can also help us increaseanimal rescue centre portugal their life quality in the shelter: You can foster a dog on distance – choose your dog, choose a monthly amount you want to donate and help us like this.

4. You can come to the shelter and help, especially during the weekend, when many volunteers come. There is job for everyone.

5. You can sponsor a kennel, a dog house, a tree, a particular medical treatment, medications – whatever you choose.

6. You can become a member of the Association – by paying a yearly membership fee by the end of 2010 we have many gifts for you.

7. You can regularly call our solidarity number: 760 20 70 60, with one phone call you feed one animal per day.

8. If you fly from Lisbon to Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark or Sweden, you can help our pets. As we have some adoptions abroad, you can take an animal with you to its new home. Let us know when you fly and we will manage all details like animal passports, skykennels, a person to take the animal to Lisbon airport and do the check-in with you and a person at the destination airport to pick up the animal. You don’t need to do anything except transporting the animal.

Bringing Food, Plants, and Animals into Mexico

National Health Services of Mexico (SENASICA) has guidelines on what is allowed, regulated and prohibited to bring across the border. The following is an overview of some of those items. Detailed information can be found on the SENASICA website.

Allowed Imports

Allowed imports may be brought in quantities for personal consumption if they are no risk of introducing a pest or disease. They are subject to inspection.

  • Smoking tobacco
  • Leather products, except for endangered species like wild lamb, jaguar, black bear, etc.
  • Honey
  • Dogs and cats (a maximum of two per traveler) with health certificates and rabies vaccine records. Visit our “Traveling with Pets in Mexico” guide for more information.
  • Roasted coffee, dried prunes, packaged spices, dried herbs, preserved fruits and vegetables cooked or dried mushrooms and dried truffles.
  • Dry cooked, packed and bottled foods
  • From the USA and Canada: refrigerated, frozen, vacuum packed, pork and processed vacuum packed pate, milk and cheese. All must be in the original package and properly labeled.

Regulated Imports

Regulated imports may be brought into Mexico according to their origin and manufacturing process and they have fulfilled the importation requirements.

  • Poultry and poultry products
  • Wild plants and hunt trophies
  • Rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, etc.
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  • Seeds, seedlings, fresh plant parts, etc.
  • Plants, fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, raw cereals, etc.
  • Dairy products
  • Bees and bees’ products (except honey)
  • Fresh, dried, canned, smoked or frozen meat and meat products from quarantined countries
  • Flours like corn meal, etc.
  • Veterinary medications and biological products
  • Agricultural chemicals and raw materials

Prohibited Imports

Prohibited imports are those at risk of introducing a pest or disease into Mexico and under no circumstances can be imported.

  • Soil
  • Bales of hay, natural straw or any straw decoration
  • Homemade food items
  • Meal of bone or meat