According to a new research by a team at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the US-based Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation, owning a pet dog can reduce stress in families with a child with autism.
The study also found out that a pet dog can reduce the number of dysfunctional interactions between the parents and the child, and improve functioning within the family as a whole.
To carry out the research, the team recruited families with a child with autism, who had been included in a previous study that looked at the short-term effects of having a pet dog in the family.
To assess any long-term benefits, the follow-up study was carried out two and a half years later. The study included 22 families with a pet dog and 15 families who had no dog. All families were asked to self report on stress levels and interactions within the family.
The research showed that in families with a dog, the stress levels associated with caring for a child with autism continued to decrease, with 20% of parents moving from clinically high to normal stress levels. However, the same reduction was not seen in families without a dog.
In addition, a significant positive relationship was observed between the parenting stress of the child’s main carer and their attachment to the dog, highlighting the importance of the bond between the two.
Steven Feldman, the executive director at HABRI, commented on the findings, saying, “Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress. Now, we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony.”
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