At some point or another, almost all children ask the question, "Can I have a pet?" Parents may cringe at those words. With a child with ADHD, the household is probably already hectic and chaotic. Adding an animal to the mix may tip the scales to "impossible to manage."
Choosing whether to have a pet is a decision each family must make on their own, based on their lifestyle. For families that spend large blocks out each day away from the house, it may not be practical to have a dog. Allergies may need to be taken into consideration.
There are, however, some benefits to having a family pet:
Pets teach about schedules.
Every pet, whether it is a fish or a dog, must be fed each day. Some pets, such as dogs, are even more schedule intensive: feeding, walking, brushing, bathing. Children can learn to create basic schedules each day to help care for the pet. Creating the schedule also helps a child learn to plan ahead. He or she will need to plan for bath days, make sure feeding schedules are followed it he or she will not be home.
Pets offer unconditional and non-judgmental love. Dogs and cars are great for providing love each and every day. No matter how your child behaves or how many times he may get yelled at, a dog is always there to offer love. Pets can make your child feel wanted, even on days other friends don't seem to be around.
Dogs need exercise. When a dog needs to be walked, or even played with, a child gets exercise. Taking a walk or playing fetch allows for a way for hyperactive children to use up some excess energy.
Animals are great listeners. Everyone needs someone to talk to about frustrations. Having a pet provides your child with someone guaranteed to listen, without offering criticism or judgments.
Animals are calming. Petting a dog or cat has been found to be calming. Even watching fish swim has a therapeutic or calming effect.
Pets teach responsibility. It's the age old argument, "Mom, I promise, I'll take care of the dog." Even if your child doesn't do all of the work, having a pet teaches responsibility for another living being. It teaches that you must sometime put responsibilities first.
Pets are good for overall health. The Centers for Disease Control indicate that owning a pet can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Decrease feelings of loneliness. Children with ADHD frequently feel alone and "different" Having a pet has been shown to decrease these feelings.
Dogs have been found to be beneficial to children with autism, developmental disabilities and ADHD. Some therapists have begun incorporating dogs into their therapy.
A pet doesn't necessarily mean a dog or a cat. There are many diifferent animals to choose from such as hamsters, lizards and fish. If you decide to bring a pet into your family, take your family situation into consideration.
Pets do take time, responsibility and money. Before making the commitment to bring a pet into your home, be sure to research the needs of each animal and pick one that will be able to adapt to your lifestyle.
See also: ADHD and Hippotherapy
If you have a pet, please let us know about your experiences.