A longitudinal study found that children (ages 4-11) who spent a lot of time with a pet dog or cat were less likely to have anxiety or depression as teenagers (ages 11-19). The risk of other mental health disorders is reduced. ). The study was published in BMC Pediatrics.
Anxiety disorders are a category of mental health conditions characterized by persistent and excessive worry, fear, or apprehension that goes beyond normal stress and can significantly affect daily functioning. People with these disorders often experience intense and prolonged states of physical arousal, including increased heart rate, muscle tension, and restlessness. Common types of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.
Anxiety disorders often begin to develop in late childhood. Statistics show that 1 in 3 American teenagers suffer from an anxiety disorder. Children and adolescents with anxiety disorders often also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, or other mental health disorders. Early treatment for childhood anxiety can be very effective, but only about half of children with mental health disorders receive treatment. This is why scientists are so interested in identifying risk factors for anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Recent studies have linked pet ownership, especially dogs, with lower anxiety scores in preschool and school children. Study author Ann Gadomski and her colleagues wanted to explore the links between childhood and adolescent mental health. They sought to examine whether childhood time spent interacting with dogs and cats was associated with mental health in adulthood.
These authors combined data from their previous study of children aged 4–11 years with the individuals’ electronic medical records 8 years later. They were able to do this for 629 participants in the initial study. Medical records contain, among other things, data on general adolescent mental health diagnoses (anxiety, depression, ADHD) through the end of October 2021.
The study authors also contacted the individuals to gather information about their ongoing interactions with the pets and to assess mental health symptoms. Participants completed various assessments, including the Screen for Children’s Anxiety Disorders for anxiety, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire for stress (ACE-Q), and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8) for depression. , companion animal relationship scale to measure attachment. for pets, and a multidimensional measure of perceived social support.
The results showed that 58 percent of the participants had owned a pet dog during their childhood, at the start of the initial study. Since then, about 30% of these children have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Of these, 52% had anxiety, 32% ADHD, 11% depression, and 5% multiple diagnoses. Diagnoses of mental health disorders, excluding anxiety and those requiring psychotropic medication, were less common among participants who had pet dogs.
The total amount of time a child spent with a pet dog or cat between the first study and this follow-up (cumulative exposure) was associated with a lower risk of developing an anxiety disorder or any mental health diagnosis. The only exception was for diagnoses requiring psychotropic medication, where this association did not apply. Exposure to the pet the child was most attached to over the 8 years between the two studies was associated with a 43% lower risk of anxiety and a 36% lower risk of other mental health diagnoses.
“Cumulative exposure to a highly attached pet dog or cat during childhood is associated with a lower risk of mental health disorders in adolescence. Although the underlying mechanism for this association is unknown, this study supports the role of companion animals in youth social-emotional development.” adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the potential benefits of interaction. Rather than studying pet ownership alone, this study measured and accounted for children’s or youth’s level of pet attachment and duration of exposure. also emphasizes the need for,” the study authors concluded.
Study sheds light on links between human-animal interactions in childhood and mental health. However, it also has limitations that must be kept in mind. In particular, the study design does not allow for any cause-and-effect inferences. Additionally, follow-up data collection was conducted during the 2021 COVID-19 pandemic, which may have limited the ability of some initial study participants to participate in this follow-up, potentially introducing self-selection bias. Is.
paper, “Effect of Pet Dog or Cat Exposure During Childhood on Mental Illness During Adolescence: A Cohort Study.””, was written by Ann Gadomski, Melissa B. Scribani, Nancy Tallman, Nicole Krupa, Paul Jenkins, and Lawrence S. Wiseau.