We don't need the Dog Whisperer or Dr. Pol to convince us that pets bring joy to our lives, or that children can form bonds with animals that are almost as deep as a human friendship. But what we may not realize is that pets have positive effects on children's mental health, and that these effects are long-lasting.
"Pet ownership can help a child's mental development in many ways," Dr. Jen Trachtenberg, assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Mount Sinai Medical Center's Icahn School of Medicine, tells Romper. "Owning a pet has been shown to lower stress and increase relaxation. It encourages healthy habits by increasing physical activity, and it gives a child a sense of purpose."
Research already indicates that having pets benefits kids' physical health in various ways, as TIME reported. Most notably, children who grow up around dogs and cats may be less likely to develop allergies or asthma. One study from Finland found that children born into dog-owning families were less likely to develop colds and ear infections as toddlers as families without pooches.
Now experts are finding that pets have positive effects on children that go way beyond reducing the sniffles. Once you find out just how beneficial animal ownership can be, you might sigh a little less over cleaning up hairballs and going for 6 a.m. walks in 15-degree weather.