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Pets are such an important (and adorable!) part of our lives. They come in many shapes and sizes—dogs, cats, hamsters, birds, or any other cute companion—but no matter the type of animal, they are living creatures capable of building bonds with humans. In fact, many people view their pets as a part of their family! It’s estimated that about 70% of households have at least one pet, and 90% of people view pets as a part of the family.

Like any other member of the family, pets can have a big impact on a child’s development. A positive relationship with a pet can help children with areas like social-emotional and motor skills.

Learn more about the benefits of having a pet for a child’s development!

Social-Emotional

Have you ever been greeted by a wagging tail or a sweet meow, and all your worries melt away? No matter your age, pets can have a huge impact on your social-emotional health!

Having a pet comes with so many social-emotional benefits for children. Positive relationships with family pets, like cats or dogs, can boost a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Taking part in routines like walking the dog or feeding their fish can give them a sense of responsibility. And playing with their furry friend can reduce stress and anxiety. Children also learn how to “nurture” when caring for a pet, which is the act of taking care of others. Through nurturing and helping to take care of their pet, they learn to form a trusting relationship, which is an important part of social-emotional development.

Motor and Play

Pets have a lot of energy, so they can be a great way for kids to get physical activity! From crawling together to going for a walk or a swim, pets like dogs need to move around every day, and children can be a part of that. This is not only a great way to get moving, but for children to also practice unstructured play.

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Communication

Talking to your pet helps baby just by watching and learning. Soon enough, they will learn the special ways to communicate with them too! Children also learn nonverbal cues and the importance of nonverbal communication from pets. Pets can also be great subjects as children learn new communication skills. For example, they can practice reading to their pets (even if they don’t understand the story!).

Sensory

Interacting with pets provides many new sensory experiences! From touching their fur to watching them move and interact, pets open up a whole new sensory world.

During play with pets, children learn to use their balance and body awareness senses. They learn to apply different types of touch based on the animal. For example, children will learn to have a lighter touch with more delicate animals like rabbits or cats, as compared to a dog or a horse.

Executive Function

There’s a lot that goes into taking care of a pet. As children get older, they can take on some of these responsibilities, and start to establish a routine for helping with the pet. Routines are a great way to strengthen executive function skills. Additionally, they may need to problem solve while helping or playing with their pet if unexpected issues come up. For example, what if Fido doesn’t want to walk today? Why would that be? And what can you do to play with Fido instead? It’s all a great way to get those executive function skills working!

But wait, there’s even more benefits!

Pets can also help with:

  • Building family bonds. When families play together with their pet, they also bond and have a positive shared experience.
  • Teaching life lessons. Pets are living creatures who teach children about topics like birth, health, and getting older.
  • Learning responsibility. Pets depend on us to feed them, wash them, walk them, and so much more! Children can take on some of these tasks and learn what it means to be responsible.
  • Respect for living things. Even though they look and act differently from us, pets are living animals that children can learn to respect and care for.
  • Cognitive development. Some studies have indicated a positive correlation between brain development and being raised with a pet.
  • Therapeutic treatment. Some highly-trained dogs can even take part in Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT), which is a form of therapy that uses animals in treatment to improve social, cognitive, motor, and emotional functioning.

If you’re thinking about getting a family pet, or you already have one, here are some safety tips to consider:

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  • Make sure to get check-ups for your pet, so they are healthy and not posing any health dangers to your family.
  • Keep your pet’s nails trimmed to avoid scratching injuries.
  • Do not let baby and pet be in the same room unattended, especially while baby is sleeping. Consider blocking off certain areas of the house from pets, or using a baby gate or play pen. You can also give your pet their own special spot.
  • Watch for allergies. Children may be allergic or develop allergic reactions to pets, but allergies can often be treated by a healthcare professional. Notice if children are sneezing a lot around pets, seem congested or get a rash.
  • When playing outside, keeps dogs on a leash or in a fenced in area. You do not want pets to run away, or for children to chase after them. Even when outside, it’s best to not leave a child and pet unattended together.