Maybe They Do Need That Puppy For Christmas After All

Is there anything more adorable than a bouncing ball of fluff with a big red bow tied to its collar? How about a puppy napping with a toddler?

Although puppies and toddlers give a hard spin to the cute meter, there is so much more to consider than the adorable factor.

Let’s face it. It’s not easy being a child today. There is a lot stacked against them. So much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics has added several alarming socially-induced illnesses to the list of preventive screenings. Childhood mental illness and obesity have become major health concerns.

With suicide as the leading cause of death in adolescents, the AAP now suggests that every child from ages 11 through 21 be screened yearly for depression — not just those at risk.

Also, screening is now recommended for dyslipidemia — high blood cholesterol levels — for children between the ages of 9 and 11 years old because of concerns of the “growing epidemic of obesity in children.”

Of course, these are complicated issues with a multitude of factors that come into play. Preventive screenings are a debate for another day, but positive preventive measures taken by loving parents are worth a closer look.

A good friend once told me that every boy needs a good dog. Mine sure did. My spin on this wisdom is that every family needs a good dog. If that sounds more like a Hallmark movie than reality, I’ve got some good news for you.

Now, science is backing up and explaining the nostalgia.

By creating a bond, stimulating conversation and facilitating social interaction, a canine companion helps to increase levels of oxytocin (the hormone which plays a role in attachment and the mother-child bond) and to reduce levels of cortisol (a hormone which controls our metabolism). This process reduces the response to stress, say the researchers, who attempted to understand what mechanisms were behind this link.

Having a dog can reduce anxiety in kids, and increases their sense of well-being.

Children — especially toddlers and babies — who grow up with dogs in the house or live on farms are even less likely to have asthma.

According to JAMA Pediatrics:

In this study, the data support the hypothesis that exposure to dogs and farm animals during the first year of life reduces the risk of asthma in children at age 6 years. This information might be helpful in decision making for families and physicians on the appropriateness and timing of early animal exposure.

Allowing a canine companion into the family enriches mental health and strengthens children’s immune and microbiome systems. Even babies benefit from living with puppies:

Dog exposure during infancy was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of asthma in school-age children, while farm animal exposure was linked to a 52 percent risk reduction.

Consider adding a new member to your family. Whether it’s a dog from the shelter or an energetic puppy looking for something to chew on– a canine companion can put a dash of joy in every season of a child’s life.