A long overdue study may have finally revealed the main reason why people who grow up with pets are more likely to lead healthy lives.
Previous research has proven that a long-lasting bond with a pet is a recipe for good health. Pet owners have a lower risk of myriad conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, and obesity. Many adult pet owners were likely introduced to dogs or cats at a young age and subconsciously made the decision to have pets of their own in the future.
According to Science Daily, the results of a recent study suggest that growing up with a pet decreases your risk for a major contributor to poor health: stress.
Researchers led by Darlene Kertes, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Florida, enlisted approximately 100 families with dogs in the household. The families, each of which had children between 7 and 12 years old, came to the university with their dogs to participate in the randomized study.
In order to stimulate feelings of stress, the children were asked to complete tasks involving public speaking and mental arithmetic.
Each child completed the tasks in one of three ways: With only their dogs present, with only their parents present, or alone with no dogs or parents.
The children who completed the tasks with their dogs reported feeling less stressed than the children who were by their parents or alone.
"Our research shows that having a pet dog present when a child is undergoing a stressful experience lowers how much children feel stressed out," Kertes said.
To test the validity of the reported feelings, researchers collected samples of saliva from the children before and after the tasks were completed. These samples were examined for levels of cortisol, a hormone that increases when one experiences stress.
The children who completed the tasks with their dogs had lower cortisol levels than the other participants, with the lowest levels detected in the children who initiated the most interactions with their dogs during the tasks.
"Children who actively solicited their dogs to come and be pet or stroked had lower cortisol levels compared to children who engaged their dogs less," said Kertes. �?When dogs hovered around or approached children on their own, however, children's cortisol tended to be higher."
The study leader added that the way kids learn to deal with stress “has lifelong consequences�? for the way they eventually deal with stress as adults.
It makes sense that kids who grow up with dogs are less stressed, since these are the same people who are less likely to experience the negative effects of excessive stress, such as obesity, drug addiction and a wide range of life-threatening conditions.
Children who grow up with pets might also be less stressed because they do not get sick very often, as proven by several previous studies.
One of these studies found that children who are exposed to dogs or cats within the first few years of their lives are less likely to develop strep throat, allergies, and ear infections. Judging by the University of Florida study, children who develop close relationships with their dogs feel more in control and secure, two qualities that appear to remain well throughout adulthood.
Future studies might want to compare the stress levels of adults who were raised alongside pets to those who were not.