Tag Archives: children

Doggy quote of the month for December

“Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.”

– Harry S Truman, 33rd President of the United States

harry-truman

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Kids with dogs have less anxiety

A research team at Bassett Medical Center in New York has found that kids with a dog at home experience far less clinical anxiety than do children who are dog-less.

This small study adds to the growing body of knowledge about the human-animal bond and the positive health impacts of dog ownership.

Child and dog

Read more about this study on NBC News.


Other blog posts about kids, dogs and health:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dog sledding is an adventure for kids with cancer

A young cancer patient on the dog sled Credit: Emmanuelle Compte

A young cancer patient on the dog sled Credit: Emmanuelle Compte

A team of sled dogs racing through the snowy forests of northern Canada conjures up the timeless spirit of exploration. But the intrepid youths on the sleds may not be exactly what you’re picturing – they’re young girls and boys with cancer.

A common perception of the paediatric cancer patient is of a frail youth whose childhood experiences are tragically curtailed by the disease. Now, the results of a new preliminary study published in ecancermedicalscience show that children with cancer may benefit from a different kind of treatment – a healthy dose of adventure.

The study follows eleven children aged 10-18 years, and five chaperones including doctors and nurses, on an expedition organised by the French non-profit Sourire à la Vie, which supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients.

“What I learned from this study is that we doctors have the false belief that kids with cancer cannot practice sport because they are too tired or weak from their treatments,” says corresponding author of the study, Dr Nicolas André. He’s a paediatric oncologist at the Assistance Publique Hôpitaux de Marseille, France.

“These perceptions are at least partly wrong,” Dr André says. “Adapted physical activities can be performed by most children with cancer even during their treatment, and can bring a lot to children.”

All of the eleven children received adapted physical training and exercises before the expedition. The children successfully completed the programme without harm – and they demonstrated statistically significant improvement in both physical and psychological health.

The children participated in other activities, such as snow exercises, as well as caring for the sled dogs.

“One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals,” explains study author Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

The health and safety of the children was of paramount concern, Sotteau says. “We did not compromise regarding security, so we carefully prepared the expedition hand-in-hand with Canadian associations and doctors.”

“Based on our work over the last eight years, we all are convinced that practicing adapted physical activity is very positive for children with cancer,” comments study author Professor Laurent Grélot, a researcher at Aix Marseille University, France. “It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning, can decrease treatment induced fatigue, and can help maintaining social integration.”

“It is now time to demonstrate these results.”

Based on the success of this study, the researchers have collected enough funding to initiate a randomised trial to evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. But perhaps the best take-home message comes from the children themselves.

“Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts,” says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. “This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again.”

“I have been dog sledding for 6 hours a day,” adds Nell, a 12-year-old patient. “I am very proud, and I feel so good now.”

Source:  AlphaGalileo media release

A closer relationship than with siblings

Matt Cassels had at least 10 pets when he was growing up and yet it had never occurred to him to think about how important his relationships with them were. Until he came to Cambridge and started working on a rich data set from the Toddlers Up Project led by Professor Claire Hughes at the Centre for Family Research.

This 10-year longitudinal study of children’s social and emotional development included a section on children’s relationships with their pets, as well as a broad range of other data from the children, their parents, teachers, and siblings.

William and Peaches 2008 Credit: Amy McCartney

William and Peaches 2008
Photo Credit: Amy McCartney

Matt was looking for a research topic for his MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology. He says: “The data on pet relationships stood out as it had never occurred to me to consider looking at pet relationships although I had studied children’s other relationships for some time and even though my own experience of pets while I was growing up was so important.”

Research on pet relationships has been going on for some time, but few studies have used the same tool to compare children’s relationships with pets with their other relationships or have focused on how the quality of pet relationships affects outcomes for children.

Matt decided that was what he wanted to focus on. What he found surprised him. He had thought strong pet relationships would make for happier children, but the truth was more complex.

Instead he discovered that children who had suffered adversity in their lives, such as a bereavement, divorce, instability and illness or were from disadvantaged backgrounds, were more likely to have a stronger relationship with their pets than their peers, although they did less well academically and suffered more mental health problems.

Matt says this may be because they come from backgrounds that predispose them to such problems. Despite this, the study showed children with stronger relationships with their pets had a higher level of prosocial behaviour – such as helping, sharing, and co-operating – than their peers. The study also demonstrated that these children, particularly girls and those whose pet was a dog, were more likely to confide in their pets than in their siblings.

Matt says: “It is really surprising that these children not only turn to their pets for support when faced with adversity, but that they do so even more than they turn to their siblings. This is even though they know their pets don’t actually understand what they are saying. “

Asked why the research might show girls talk and argue with their pets more than boys when previous less detailed research tends to suggest it is boys who have a better relationship with their pets, Matt adds: “They may feel that their pets are not judging them and since pets don’t appear to have their own problems they just listen. Even confiding in a journal can be therapeutic, but pets may be even better since they can be empathetic.”

Matt’s research was based mostly on data collected when the children, 88 of whom had pets at the time, were 12 years old, 10 years after they had begun participating in this study. The children, their parents, siblings, and teachers all provided information on prosocial behaviour, emotional wellbeing, academic ability, and children’s relationship with their pet. Matt measured this information against how much children confided in their pet, how much they argued with their pet, what satisfaction they got out of their relationship with their pet, and how often they did things with their pet each day.

To do so he used a new pet attachment scale adapted from an established and psychometrically validated measure of human attachment. His results supported the validity of using the tool and of considering human-animal relationships in similar terms to human-human relationships. “I had to first prove that it was valid to talk about child pet relationships in the same way we talk about sibling relationships and that we were not indulging in anthropomorphism. My research found the tool was better than those that have previously been available so the possibilities for future research in this area are exciting.”

Matt, who is now doing a PhD in the Psychiatry Department with the support of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, has written two papers on his research, which are currently under review for publication. He says there is a lot more that could be done with the Toddlers Up data, for instance, looking at the impact of pet deaths on children.

“Pets are relatable and ubiquitous,” he says. “In the US and England pets are more common in families with young children than resident fathers and yet we don’t quantify how important they are to us.”

Source:  University of Cambridge press release

Doggy quote of the month for March

“It is the same with dogs as with children, if one wants them to be loved, they must be well brought up.”

– Madame Charles Boeswilwald, 19th century French author

Autistic children who live with pets are more assertive

Yet another piece of research that points to the value of dogs and other animals.  This time the research was done at the University of Missouri and focused on the social skills of autistic children.

You guessed it – the children who lived with pets developed better social skills including assertiveness.  “When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills,” said Gretchen Carlisle, Research Fellow.

Source:  University of Missouri press release

Dogs are a ‘social lubricant’ in helping people with autism

Research published in the open access journal PLoS ONE indicates that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Autistic boy with dog

Previous studies have shown that people are more likely to receive overtures of friendship from strangers when walking a dog than when walking alone. The authors suggest that this ‘social lubricant’ effect of animals on human social interactions can be particularly important for individuals with socio-emotional disabilities.

In this study, the authors compared how 5-13 year old children with ASD interacted with adults and typically-developing peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys.  When the guinea pigs were present, the children were more likely to talk and look other people in the eye plus they smiled and laughed more often.

These results indicate that animal-assisted therapy programmes may be useful in helping children with ASD integrate into classrooms and other social environments.

Source:  Science Daily