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Pets and Children

How Pets Can Benefit the Lives of Children
By: Dr. Kim Bloomer

Dr. Kim Bloomer Dr. Kim is a certified animal naturopath and published author, consulting on canine nutrition and wellness. She co-hosts the Internet radio show, Animal Talk Naturally. She is also the co-founder of the American Council of Animal Naturopathy. In addition, Dr. Kim is a proficient blogger and writer on natural pet health, co-author of Whole Health for Happy Dogs and author of Animals Taught Me That.

"A house is not a home without a pet." ~Anonymous

When I was growing up, we always had a wide variety of pets that included dogs, cats, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, fish and birds. We were also fortunate to be around farm animals on my father’s side of the family. It was very normal for families to have at the very least a dog or a cat. In other words, most families had pets when I was growing up and the pets were very much a part of the family.  It was also expected that the children had to carry a portion of the responsibility in the care, training, and raising of the pets that we were allowed to own. As an animal lover, this was pure heaven to me. Pets can really benefit the lives of children in so many ways, including with their health.

According to a recent survey which was referenced in an article on LifeWithDogs.tv, “…children raised with pets feel more confident, caring and responsible than their pet-less peers...Commissioned by Pets at Home, the survey of 1,000 pet-owning children suggests that those who share a home with one or more pets are not just physically healthier – they also enjoy mental health benefits from pet ownership.”

Growing up with animals gave me a sense of being loved by them unconditionally, regardless of what others thought about me. It developed in me a sense of purpose as well as a sense of belonging. Children have so much to overcome in this adult world of ours. Animals can give a child not only a sense of purpose and responsibility, but also a companion who loves them unconditionally with no expectations other than to be loved in return.

Some parents may worry that having a pet will distract a child from their other responsibilities such as household chores and their studies. But in fact, the survey mentioned in the article above states the contrary: pets have a positive effect upon a child’s studies as they calm a child allowing them to focus better.

By taking responsibility for a pet, children can learn to be much more focused, confident and grounded in their responsibilities when they are older.

In my work as a certified animal naturopath, I focus on teaching my clients about the laws of health mandated in nature which goes for all living beings – human and animal alike. And they are as follows: proper species appropriate nutrition, exercise, fresh water, sunshine, moderation, fresh air, proper rest and trust in the Divine. By following these laws, our children, our pets and ourselves will be healthy – and it is a lot easier to encourage your children to live up to the natural laws of health when they have pets to care for and interact with in their lives.  

A child playing outside with her dog throwing a ball, running in the fresh air, hanging out in the sunshine is going to be far healthier physically and mentally, than a child that lives a sedentary, indoor life. The child will be able to interact with their pet as a companion that does not judge them. They will be laughing, playing and running if they have a dog to play with letting off the stress that builds up if they are sedentary. And the pets will be healthy too! Since stress is a precursor to ill health, it naturally stands to reason that a child that has less stress will be healthier.

Our sweet dog that recently passed away, used to sit outside and watch the neighborhood boys play football and then try to mimic what they were doing with his own balls in the yard. I used to wish he could play with those boys as it would have been so good for him and for the children as well. The children always stopped by to say hello to him. And every morning our dog knew exactly what time the children would be walking to the bus stop so he would be waiting at the end of our fence to watch them as they walked by. The children always shouted hello to him as they walked by.

My husband and I began walking the fields, arroyos and hills in my neighborhood because our Great Dane dog needed a lot more exercise than just a casual daily walk. He would dash and run all over the hills and fields as we walked along keeping an eye on him and getting our own exercise, fresh air and sunshine as well. And because I am always cognizant of the nutritional needs of pets, he got the diet of a domestic carnivore. This has made us much more focused on proper nutrition for ourselves as well. When a child is allowed to participate in the care of a pet from feeding them to helping them exercise, it naturally teaches the child the laws of health. In addition, it teaches them responsibility, which can then translate to confidence in their ability to care for another living being.

When I was a child my parents expected us to learn about the needs and nature of the pets in our care. I chose to study their anatomy, physiology, nutritional and physical needs, etc., as part of learning all I could about the pets in my care. By encouraging your children to learn these things as a requirement in having pets, you have encouraged their further education with motivation. Not only will they be much more inclined to properly caring for their pets, but you have given them another element to their overall education that will benefit them in their eventual role as a contributing societal adult.

By having all the pets I had in my life growing up, I learned about respect, honor, courage, integrity, caring, loyalty, commitment, responsibility, forgiveness and most of all about love. They enrich our lives with their antics and shenanigans. They make us laugh and they make us cry. They bring us joy and they bring us sorrow. They help us to really live life. Life is much too sterile and sedate without pets. They stretch us outside of our protective boundaries, as I would never have ventured into the hills of my desert home without my dog leading the way. Pets also help us and our children to make friends that we may never have considered – other pet loving people such as ourselves. Pets free us and our children from our own manufactured boundaries and free us to befriend other pet lovers from different walks of life.

In an article series I wrote back in 2008, that was the precursor to authoring my book, Animals Taught Me That, I wrote the following about what animals have taught me which I believe can greatly benefit the overall wellbeing and health of our children:

Leadership is not dominance. True leaders serve the greater good. Horses taught me that.

Forgiveness and meekness is true power and strength. Dogs taught me that.

Healing can be as simple as a purr. Cats taught me that.

Dancing and singing with utter joy and abandon is fun. A bird by the name of Snowball taught me that.

Flight only comes after adversity. Moths and butterflies taught me that.

Love is true freedom. Animals taught me that.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~Anatole France