We know that our feline companions improve our quality of life. But do they have the same effect on kids? Cat-owning parents, rejoice.
A wide variety of studies have confirmed that having a pet is great for kids’ physical, emotional, and social well-being.
Owning a cat may be especially beneficial to children with special needs.
Physical Health Benefits
Children who are raised around pets from a very young age are less likely to develop allergies and certain illnesses.
The earlier, the better – a study published by Pediatrics journal indicated that kids born into a home with a pet had better overall health by age one than their non-pet owning peers.
The theory is that exposure to the germs and dander associated with a pet actually helps stimulate the immune system during a critical formative period.
A European study found that kids with pets had fewer ear infections and upper respiratory infections than those without pets, and they required fewer antibiotics. Some studies suggest that pet owners even miss fewer days of school due to illness!
Owning a cat offers some significant emotional benefits as well. As cat owners know, just petting a cat can immediately reduce stress and frustration. That’s because physical contact with a beloved pet triggers a chemical response in the brain, lowering cortisol, a stress hormone, and raising levels of oxytocin, which makes us feel good.
Pets also help boost self-esteem, because children can count on their furry friends to love them back no matter what.
Cats make great reading buddies for kids who struggle with the skill, because kids perceive that their pets listen to them read without judging how well they’re doing it. In addition, having a pet can help reduce mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Connecting with a pet improves mindfulness – the state of “living in the moment” without worrying about the future or agonizing over the past.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports that learning to care for a pet helps teach children how to better relate to people. That’s primarily because they learn the value of respect for living things. Having a pet teaches compassion, as kids learn to empathize with their cat’s feelings.
Cats can serve as a child’s confidante, helping them deal with difficult but inevitable social situations, like exclusion and rejection.
Cat ownership can teach other values as well. Kids learn responsibility by helping with pet-related chores, like feeding and litter box cleanup. Cats can serve as a child’s confidante, helping them deal with difficult situations like exclusion and rejection.
Want to learn more about cats? Click here to learn about different types of breeds.
Benefits for Kids with Special Needs
Cats can be an excellent choice of companion animal for children with certain special needs, including those with autism spectrum disorder.
Medical Daily reports that children on the autism spectrum who became cat owners at around age five showed significant improvement in social skills, such as sharing.
Researchers found that interacting and playing with a cat served as a form of practice for interacting with other people. Anecdotal evidence suggests that being around cats can even improve verbal skills in previously non-verbal or low-verbal children.
Words of Caution
Children under age four may be rough on pets because they haven’t yet learned appropriate boundaries. Kids this young should always be supervised around cats.
As with all aspects of parenting, modeling behavior is one of the most important elements of raising a kind, empathetic child.
If kids see their parents treating pets carelessly, they will quickly come to believe that this is acceptable behavior, and the social and emotional benefits of pet ownership erode.
But if you’re a loving cat owner with kids, expect to reap lots of wonderful rewards!