Pet dogs lower stress in families with autistic children

Veterinary professionals know first-hand the positive effects dogs have on families. A study now supports that with a unique demographic: families with autistic children.

Researchers from the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, thanks to a grant from the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI), found that there was improved family functioning when families had a dog compared to families without a dog.

The study also found that parent-child dysfunctional interactions were reduced among families with a dog.  

The study was published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior Applications and Research on March 13.

The study followed up on a previous study conducted two-and-a-half years ago on the short-term effects of a pet dog on families of a child with autism, to determine long-term benefits.

The current study, which replicated the same tests and outcome measures as the previous study, demonstrated that initial results of reduced family difficulties lasted years beyond the early stages of acquiring a dog, and that stress levels continued to experience a steady decline. 

“Stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog,” said Daniel Mills, BVSc, PhD, one of the study authors.

Using standard self-reporting, families with a pet dog had improved family functioning compared with the control group families. Although both groups showed reduced parenting stress, the reductions were more evident in the intervention group. With parent-child dysfunctional interactions, only the families with pet dogs showed a reduction in stress.

Supported by a number of organizations, including AAHA via participation on its steering committee, the HABRI Foundation maintains the world’s largest online library of human-animal bond research and has funded more than half a million dollars in independent research projects to scientifically document the health benefits of companion animals.

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