Study: Children with pet dogs less likely to have anxiety




A higher percentage of children without pet dogs (21%) than children with pet dogs (12%) tested positive for anxiety, in a cross-sectional study.

Researchers conducted the study at a general pediatric clinic in an academic medical center in Upstate New York. All parents of children enrolled in the study completed SCARED-5, a 5-item scale adapted from the Screen for Child Anxiety and Related Disorders, a tool validated in both psychiatric and primary care settings.


Dr. Anne M. Gadomski, attending pediatrician and research scientist at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, N.Y., and her colleagues analyzed the mean SCARED-5 score and the proportion of children meeting the SCARED-5 clinical score threshold of 3 or more, a point at which further assessment is indicated to diagnose anxiety. Their final analysis involved 370 children with a pet dog and 273 children with no pet dog. The children were aged 4-10 years. Ill or developmentally disabled children were excluded from the study.

In a univariate analysis, the mean SCARED-5 score was significantly lower among children with a pet dog, compared with children without a pet dog. The average score for children with dogs was 1.13 vs. 1.40 for children without dogs (P = .01). The predicted probability of a SCARE-5 score of 3 or higher was 0.20 for children without pet dogs, compared with 0.11 for children with pet dogs. Further demonstrating the link between children with pet dogs and a decreased likelihood of childhood anxiety was the study’s finding of a pet dog having been associated with a 9% decreased probability of child scoring greater than or equal to 3 in the SCARED-5.

“Our study results suggest that children who have a pet dog in the home have a lower anxiety screening score than children who do not,” wrote Dr. Gadomski and her colleagues.

Further research on the anxiety levels of children with pet dogs should determine whether having a pet dog prevents a child from being anxious, and if so, how pets contribute to this absence of anxiety in children, they noted.

Read the full study in Preventing Chronic Disease (doi: 10.5888/pcd12.150204).

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