children

Pets and autism

It has been fully documented that children who suffer from autism can benefit from living with a pet. However, a new study by Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine has found that the parents of autistic children also benefit from having a pet in the family. Having a pet reduces the stress in parents despite the extra responsibility of owning and caring for a pet.

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The study goes on to stress that the right type of pet should be selected that will help the autistic child. They suggest that in some cases a quieter cat may be better than an active dog. Certain types of birds or small animals might also qualify as a pet. They also suggest that the child be included in the selection of the type of pet.

As a certified animal behavior consultant, I want to add that if the family decides to adopt a pet, extra care must be taken to ensure that there are no behavioral issues with the pet that could cause an extra level of responsibility for the parents. For any child, being forced to rehome a pet due to behavioral issues after the child becomes attached to the pet is not a desirable situation.

This is why it is important to thoroughly research the types of pets as well as the individual animal to make sure it is suitable for the spectrum of autism the child has. One way to do this is to consult with a qualified dog, parrot or cat behavior consultant (iaabc.org) or an experienced dog trainer if a dog is a consideration.

Early exposure to dogs lessens the risk of schizophrenia

An important study conducted by Robert Yolken, M.D. the chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center showed that early exposure to dogs may lessen the risk of children developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The study also explored if early exposure to cats had the same affect. It seems that it has not been proven if cats produce the same results.

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It is not hard to understand how this is possible when you realize, as the article explains, that serious psychiatric disorders are associated with changes in the immune system. Changes result from exposure to different environmental conditions (not just pets). In the case of pet cats and dogs, they can affect the immune system through allergic responses, bacteria related to pets, contact with animal bacteria and viruses, the microorganisms in the home environment as well as the reduction of stress which changes the brain chemistry.

While this study has given us insight to another benefit of raising a child during his first 13 years with a dog (and possibly a cat), the study points out that more research is needed. It is my hope that researchers will eventually be able to pinpoint the exact cause of this benefit and develop a way to use it to help many people.

The Child’s Role in Picking Out a New Dog

Over the years when I have helped families find and select the right dog/puppy, I have seen the frustration, heartache and pressure that allowing children to be part of the process at the wrong time has caused. In some cases even disagreements within the family. As a result I have developed a system that works 100% of the time if followed. In this article I mention my brochure about how to find the right dog and breeder. If you would like the brochure email me with brochure in the subject line. (sbulanda@gmail.com)

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The Child’s Role

Parents often want their children to be involved in picking out the family dog.

While this is a sweet thought, it must be done in a positive way for the benefit of the family, child and dog. First read my brochure, Selecting the Right Dog, Finding the Right Breeder that I offer at no cost.

Once the parents have followed these instructions, they can start the process that will include the children. It is important that only adults select the type, breed and age of the dog for the family. The reasons why are:

A. Children are not educated enough to know what will work for the entire family.

B. They do not understand the cost and care of a given type of dog. They often pick a dog that looks nice to them with no thought to the grooming requirements or costs to pay a groomer to maintain your dog’s coat.

C. If you bring a child with you to evaluate a breeder and/or a litter, and you find that the situation is not one you want to get a dog from, the child may not understand why you are not going to buy or adopt that cute puppy or dog. It can be traumatic for the child to walk away. It can also be impossible for some parents to walk away in that situation. For example, we all know that we should never buy a puppy from a puppy mill breeder. But picture a child who does not understand this and falls in love with a puppy in that situation. Try walking away with a child who is crying and begging you to bring home a puppy. It can be embarrassing for the parent to justify the decision in front of an unethical breeder.

Once you find the right breeder and litter, only the adults should pick which puppy is a candidate. If it is a good litter, then there should be more than one puppy that meets your needs.

Preselect the puppies that are candidates. Come to terms with the breeder about payment and paperwork. Once that is accomplished, then arrange for another visit to the litter. At that time you can bring the children and the breeder can introduce them to the preselected puppies. Now the children can pick which puppy they like.

By handling the puppy selection in this manner it will be a 100% happy experience for the whole family, as well as the breeder.

If you are going to adopt an older dog it is essential to have the dog evaluated by a professional, preferably a certified canine behavior consultant to be sure that the adult dog will be safe around children and safe in your home environment. This includes an evaluation to determine if the adult dog is safe around other animals. Even if you do not own other animals, the chances are that you and your dog will encounter them. It saves everyone heartache and disappointment if you carefully evaluate the new member of your family before you bring him home.

I would also like to mention that it is never a good idea to surprise an adult family member with a puppy as a present. Because of the unique bond that develops between people and their dogs, it is essential that the family member pick their own puppy/dog. If you want to give a dog as a gift, you can give the recipient a stuffed dog with a note that when they are ready, they can pick out the puppy/dog that they want. This way they can choose the breed, breeder and puppy. In many cases people have told me that they really did not want another dog or that they would have rather gotten a different breed even though the family thought they would want a dog like they had before. In some cases if the family member is elderly, they may want a smaller breed or even a cat instead of a dog.

New pets should not be given during the holidays and good breeders will not allow a puppy or kitten to be purchased as a holiday gift. This is a dangerous time to bring a new pet into the home. Often there are many guests coming and going that can frighten a dog or cat, or the pet can bolt out of an open door. It is frightening enough for them to be taken to a strange home. Remember, the pet has no idea why it was taken from its mother, litter mates and put in an unfamiliar environment.

The new pet needs a quiet environment to adjust and feel safe. There are also decorations and typically, an abundance of food available that the new pet might be able to get a hold of, so extra monitoring is needed.

Guests will want to see and perhaps play with the new pet. This can be traumatic for the pet who does not feel safe to begin with.  The new owners may be too busy with guests and even family celebrating the holidays to give the new pet the care and attention that he needs. This is especially true if the family does any visiting and must leave the pet alone.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me. I am always glad to help. When picking a dog for work, it is essential that the right breeder, breed and line are up to standards. We put too much effort and time into training a working dog to find out after a year or more of training that the dog cannot work up to the requirements. If children are part of the family, it is likely that you will keep the dog and try to find another. Keep in mind that genetics are not an exact science and even the best breeder can produce a “lemon.”

 

Asthma and Pets

In a new study conducted by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, if parents and children follow the NAEPP (EPR-3) guidelines for asthma control in children, pets and secondhand smoke does not increase their symptoms. This is important to those people who love pets because it means that a family does not have to get rid of a pet if a family member develops asthma.

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This is also important because if a child suffers from asthma, a pet can be a big comfort to them if the asthma interferes with other activities.

However, it is important to work with your health care provider and follow the NAEPP (EPR-3) guidelines. The study shows that asthma treatment is more important than exposure to elements in the environment.

Therapy dogs help children with ADHD

Many people have accepted the use of therapy dogs to help people in various ways. However, a study was done on children ages 7 -9 who were diagnosed with ADHD and had never taken medication to control it.

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Sabrina E. B. Schuck, PhD, MA, executive director of the UCI Child Development Center and assistant professor in residence in the Department of Pediatrics at UCI School of Medicine found that children with ADHD who received canine assisted intervention (CAI) experienced a reduction in inattention and an improvement in social skills.

They also found that the children who were in the CAI group had significantly fewer behavior problems over time than those treated without therapy dogs. This gives parents of children who do not want to use mediation an alternative treatment.

Maternal separation affects rat’s brains and changes adult behavior

Associate professor of psychology Christopher Lapish at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Science has shown that if a baby rat is taken from its mother for 24 hours when the baby is nine days old, it changes their behavior as adults.

The study showed that there was memory impairment and less communication between brain regions as well as other neurological changes in the rat’s brain. Rats that were separated showed significant behavioral, biological and physiological, brain abnormalities in adulthood.

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The findings in this study have a bearing on humans as well. According to co-author Brian F. O’Donnell, professor of psychological and brain sciences at IU Bloomington, “children exposed to early-life stress or deprivation are at higher risk for mental illness and addictions later in life, including schizophrenia.”

This research is also supported by the findings that if kittens are taken from their mothers before they are weaned, they tend to show more aggressive behavior as adults. I know that children who are taken from their mothers at birth and put up for adoption have a higher rate of attachment disorder as a result.

Because rat brains have similarities to human brains, this study can lead to further findings. It would be interesting to study the behavior of all animals that are bottle fed by humans and even those that are fostered with a different mother to see if there are differences in their behavior from those that are raised by their birth mother.

Hypoallergenic pets and children

In the past, researchers have determined that children who have a pet dog or cat, or those who live in rural areas around livestock, have less of a chance to develop asthma and allergies to pets.

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A recent study conducted by Tove Fall, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Sciences — Molecular Epidemiology at Uppsala University, who led the study with Professor Catarina Almqvist Malmros at Karolinska Institutet showed some interesting results.

They determined that the sex of the dog was a factor in reducing an allergic reaction in children. It seems that children who lived with female dogs and more than one dog in the home had less allergies.

They also found that children who lived with the breeds and mixes of dogs that are supposed to be ‘hypoallergenic’ actually had a higher percent of allergies. That the hypoallergenic dogs were not better for children.

A child will benefit the most from having a pet in the home if they are raised the first year of their life with the pet.

The fact that the hypoallergenic breeds are not really hypoallergenic is especially important information for those parents who may be considering a dog for their child who has allergies.

Many people are duped into paying high prices for supposed hypoallergenic designer mixes and breeds that are labeled as hypoallergenic. No matter what the mixed breed is supposedly mixed with, it is still a mixed breed with no proof that it is what the breeder claims to be. I have personally seen many cases where the supposed mix of Goldendoodle or Labradoodle grow up to have the characteristics of a completely different breed. In some cases DNA tests showed the dog was not what it was claimed to be.

Although more research needs to be done, it appears that getting a female dog of the breed that you want is the best course of action. If you plan to start a family, get the dog first. Have the dog trained by the time you start the family. It will make the situation much easier and benefit the children that join your family.

Asthma – Children – Pets

A recent study by the Nationwide Children’s Hospital to determine if second-hand smoke and living with a pet had a role in controlling severe asthma in children, found interesting results.

In the past if a child had asthma and the family had a pet, the family was often encouraged to get rid of the pet. This is a heartbreaking situation. If the child is old enough to realize that it is because of them that the pet was re-homed, it could cause the child to feel as though they are the blame. This feeling of guilt on top of the grief of losing the pet can be very difficult for a child to deal with.

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However, the most recent study has shown that if the child’s asthma is managed per NAEPP (EPR-3) guidelines that second-hand smoke and pets do not cause the asthma to get worse or prevent it from improving.

This is very good news for families where a child, or even a family member, suffers from asthma. It also means that a child who has asthma does not have to be denied the joy of owning a pet.

Dog ownership lessens risk of heart disease

In a unique Swedish study, researchers found that people who owned dogs had a lower mortality rate then those who did not. They also found that people who lived alone and owned a dog had less cardiovascular diseases then people who lived alone who did not own a dog.

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The researchers studied 3.4 million people between the ages of 40 and 80 making this a comprehensive comparison. What the study did not show was why there was a difference between dog ownership and non-dog ownership.

One possibility considered was that people who own dogs are more active because they walk their dogs. There was also no indication as to whether or not there were other factors such as the type of people who own dogs vs those who do not.

However, the bottom line is that dog ownership, again, has proven to benefit the health of their owners. It would be interesting to study how growing up with a dog or pet affects the health of children as adults if they continue to own a pet vs those who get a dog or pet later in life. We know that children who own pets are less prone to developing allergies. It would be interesting to know what other physical and mental benefits pet ownership has on children.

Canine aggression to family members and familiar dogs

A recent study by researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital showed that there are about 12 genes associated with canine aggression toward an owner or a familiar dog. They concluded that these genetic traits are distinct from the genetic predisposition toward aggression to unfamiliar people and dogs.

It has been found that the genetics involved are common to all breeds of dogs making it easier to study.

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Photo: Babs watching over baby William

Carlos Alvarez, PhD, who is the main researcher at the Center for Molecular and Human Genetics in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, feels that the genes are consistent with the neural pathway known as the amygdala to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Researchers feel that this genetic element is related to anxiety disorders in humans and hope that further research will show what kinds of medications will help both dogs and people.

This is an on-going research project. The fact that this type of aggression is genetically based is a good reason for people who plan to purchase a dog to investigate thoroughly the ethics of the breeder and the lines of the dog. If a person adopts a dog who shows this type of behavior they should immediately consult with a certified canine behavior consultant. You can find one at www.iaac.org. If my readers would like my brochure about how to find a good breeder and a quality dog, please emails me at sbulanda@gmail.com. There is no charge for the brochure.