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Your Child

Can Dogs Help Kids Be Less Anxious?


Scientific studies have already linked fewer allergies and asthma in kids that own dogs, now a new study says you can also add less anxiety to the list of benefits from man’s best friend.

Researchers say a new study shows kids who live in a home with a pet dog score far lower on clinical measures of anxiety.

Although the study was small, the results were not surprising. Researchers focused on 643 kids between 6 and 7. But the team at Bassett Medical Center in New York found that just 12 percent of children with pet dogs tested positive for clinical anxiety, compared to 21 percent of children without a dog.

"It may be that less anxious children have pet dogs or pet dogs make children less anxious," Dr. Anne Gadomski and colleagues wrote in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Previous studies have also shown that adults benefit from owning a pet as well as kids. In fact, many health officials suggest that adults should consider getting a dog. Not only can they provide companionship but can encourage more exercise.

Gadomski acknowledged how special pets can be to a child by noting that, "Sometimes their first word is the name of their pet," she told NBC News. "There is a very strong bond between children and their pets."

What makes dogs such special pets for kids?  Godmski’s team said, "From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants," they wrote.

"Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children's mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment," they added.

"Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children's emotional development."

The researchers asked parents for specific details about what type of anxiety a child showed.

Pets seemed to help in several areas.

"Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component ('My child is afraid to be alone in the house') and social anxiety component ('My child is shy') favoring pet ownership," they wrote.

Most of the families in the study - 73 percent - had a pet of some kind. Most - 58 percent - had dogs. Families with pets may be more stable and may be more affluent, but the researchers suggest there's more to it than that.

"A pet dog can stimulate conversation, an ice-breaking effect that can alleviate social anxiety via a social catalyst effect," they wrote.

Other studies have also shown that playing or cuddling with a dog can release the bonding hormone oxytocin, and lower the stress hormone cortisol, they noted.

There’s already an abundance of research on dogs and families, which is one of the reasons Gadomski chose to look at the relationship between dogs and kids for this study.

However, she noted that cat lovers might also benefit from the same type of interaction.

If you’re interested in getting a dog as a pet for your family, there are several websites that offer a quiz to help families decide which breed may best be suited for them. Just search “best dog breeds for families.”

Shelters also have puppies and dogs that make wonderful pets.  Many of the older dogs are already house trained and socialized. Shelter staff can answer your questions about whether a particular dog that is up for adoption would be suitable for a family and small children.

Source: Maggie Fox,







Cat Poop Parasite Doesn’t Cause Psychosis in Kids


Past studies have linked the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii - found in cats - to symptoms of psychosis in humans. These studies suggested that kids who grow up with felines are more likely to develop mental health issues. Much to the relief of cat lovers, a new study casts doubt on that link, finding no such connection between cat ownership and an increased risk of psychosis.

"The message for cat owners is clear: There is no evidence that cats pose a risk to children's mental health," study lead author Francesca Solmi, a researcher in the Division of Psychiatry at University College London (UCL), said in a statement released by UCL.

The Toxoplasma gondii parasite has been associated with the development of schizophrenia and symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations. Research published in 2015 also found the link between owning a cat in childhood and developing schizophrenia or other serious mental issues.

However, these cat studies were limited because they were small, were not rigorously designed and did not properly account for factors that could affect the link, the UCL researchers said.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from nearly 5,000 children who were born in England in 1991 and 1992, and followed them until they were 18 years old. The researchers looked at whether the kids' mothers owned a cat while pregnant, and whether the family owned a cat when the children were 4 and 10 years old.

The researchers also interviewed the children at ages 13 and 18, to assess whether they had experienced psychosis symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations and intrusive thoughts.

Overall, there was no link between cat ownership and symptoms of psychosis at ages 13 and 18.

Initially, the researchers did find a link between cat ownership at ages 4 and 10 and symptoms of psychosis at age 13, but this link went away once the researchers took into account other factors that could influence the results, such as the family's social class, the number of times the family moved before the child was 4 years old and the age of the child's parents.

While the researchers agreed that cat ownership doesn’t significantly increase the risk of exposure to the parasite, they caution women who are pregnant, to avoid cleaning litter boxes because the parasite can be present in cat feces.

"Our study suggests that cat ownership during pregnancy or in early childhood does not pose a direct risk for later psychotic symptoms," explains senior author Dr. James Kirkbride (UCL Psychiatry). "However, there is good evidence that T. Gondii exposure during pregnancy can lead to serious birth defects and other health problems in children. As such, we recommend that pregnant women should continue to follow advice not to handle soiled cat litter in case it contains T. Gondii."

The study was recently published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

Story sources:  Rachael Rettner,


Your Baby

Having a Baby? Keep Your Pets!


In a world full of allergens, you might think that having pets around could only make things worse.  But according to a new study from Canada, families with dogs and cats may unwittingly be protecting their infant children from not only allergies but obesity as well.

University of Alberta epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj and a team of researchers analyzed more than 700 Canadian children. They found babies exposed to pets while in the womb or up to three months recorded an "abundance" of ruminococcus and oscillospira (both are bacteria found in the gut,) the latter of which is associated with leanness or lower body mass index, notes the study - published in the journal Microbiome.

Kozyrskyj said the two types of bacteria increased "twofold" when a pet was in the house. The team said the theory is that early exposure to bacteria — like that from a dog — creates a type of resistance.

Unborn babies can benefit from allergy resistance by being indirectly exposed through their mother’s womb. The microbes can pass from pet to mother to baby.

Even if a parent decides not to keep pets after the baby is born, if pets were in the house during the pregnancy, the infant may gain some benefit anyway.

The findings also suggest pet exposure could cut down the risk of group B strep, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could cause blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis in newborns. Doctors treat against group B strep by giving mothers antibiotics during the delivery process.

Dogs were shown to offer higher levels of the beneficial microbes.

Story source: Sean Rossman,


Choosing a Dog for the Family


Dogs make great companions and it doesn’t take long before they become “one of the family.”

If you’re considering adding a dog to the family unit, there are several questions you need to answer first.

What kind of dog is best for your family? It depends.

What kind of space can you provide? You'll want to pick a dog whose size and needs are a good match for your household. Do you live in an apartment – where a smaller dog might do better – or do you have plenty of space in a backyard for a larger dog to run and play?

What is your family lifestyle like? Is everyone on the go most of the time, or is someone typically around to train and care for your pet?

Does anyone suffer from pet allergies? There are breeds that don’t shed or shed very little. There are even some that are considered “hypoallergenic.”

Who is the one in the family that will spend the most time caring for the dog?

When kids are in love with the idea of getting a dog, they often make promises to walk, clean up after and feed it. But, who is really going to be the dog’s caregiver? The younger the child, the more likely a parent is to be the one who takes care of the dog. Are you ready to make that commitment?

However daunting it may feel, remember that a funny thing often happens when a dog enters the family dynamic, they usually win everyone over; so caring for one may become more of a loving habit than an unwelcomed chore.

Having a dog can be a great way to help instill responsibility, empathy and life’s difficult lesson on how to say goodbye to a loved one, in a child. If you’ve grown up with pets, you already know how many special moments they provide. If you've never owned a dog, read up on the benefits verses the challenges. There are pros and cons to seriously consider. Dogs need love and to feel welcomed to thrive - just like people. 

The American Kennel Club lists several breeds of dogs that are usually very good with children. Some of the top suggestions are:

·      The Boxer

·      The Beagle

·      The Golden Retriever

·      The Labrador Retriever

·      The Weimaraner

·      The Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

·      The Newfoundland

·      The Bulldog

·      The Bull Terrier

These are all specific breeds, but many a great dog can be found in a shelter or adoption center. These are typically mixed-breeds but often have fewer health problems than full breeds and a unique sense of appreciation. There are also rescue organizations that find homes for particular breeds.  

If you decide on a puppy, know that there will be several phases it will go through. If you have the patience and the puppy gets positive training along the way – you’ve got a dog that knows and understands your family. 

An older dog can be just as valuable, doesn't need potty training and after a transition period, can fit in remarkably well. 

Not every family is ready to take on the responsibility of owning a dog; sometimes the timing just isn’t right. But when the stars align and you’re ready to give it a try, there’s nothing better than the smile on your child’s face when he or she meets the new family member – and not to forget – that sloppy kiss and wagging tail that greets you when you start the day!

Story source: Joan McClusky,




Daily Dose

Pet Turtles And Salmonella Risk?

The link between pet turtles and salmonella I was recently traveling to a medical meeting and often use my airplane time to catch up on my journal reading. An article from Pediatrics discussing the issue of pet turtles and salmonella infections caught my eye.

In this study of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella (a bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhea)
in 2007 and 2008, the long known link between turtles and salmonella was being reviewed.  Of 107 patients identified from 34 states, over 50% were less than 10 years of age, and 60% of 78 patients who were available for interviews reported exposure to turtles the week before they became ill. It also seems that small turtles (I had them when I was growing up), accounted for 87% of the exposures.

Sales of small turtles have been banned by the FDA since 1975 (I am really showing my age), but are currently being sold over the internet, in flea markets and even in some retail stores, without any warnings of possible salmonella infection. In fact, some people will advertise “salmonella free” turtles which have never been bred. Due to this there has been an increase in small turtle ownership over the last 10 years and up to 6% of salmonella infections in the U.S. are due to reptile contact rather than from food -borne sources. In fact, those small turtles are not the only source of salmonella infections, but all reptiles may carry this organism including iguanas, other lizards and even snakes. (okay, I have to admit with three sons we had all of these during their childhood, not knowing they could cause illness). Another interesting fact is that you do not even have to touch the reptile, (which I hated to do), but cleaning the water and the aquarium (which WAS often my job!) is also a source of exposure. So, few parents and obviously this pediatricians are aware of the fact that salmonella infections from reptiles are actually on the rise. It’s not just those small turtles that live in the bowl with the palm tree, but all of those reptiles pose a risk for infection. As parents do know, it is hard to keep children from touching or playing with the turtle, or iguana and hand washing right after touching a pet often does not occur. No one likes vomiting and diarrhea, and it may not always be due to the food at the picnic! That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question to Dr. Sue now!

Daily Dose

Bringing Home A Puppy

We have a new puppy!! We had lost our 12-year-old golden retriever several months ago and my husband and I were lonely, but not sure about taking on the responsibility of a new dog.

At the same time, our youngest son said, “we are a dog family, a BIG dog family”, we need a dog. But I know what having a new dog is like, we have had puppies several times before, and it is really like having a new “toddler” in the house. It is a lot of work, just like parenting. So, I had decided that we would wait awhile until we had really grieved and were ready to “raise” another dog, especially with the holidays and an upcoming wedding. As we all know, some things happen for a reason, and we received a phone call right before Thanksgiving about a yellow lab puppy, who was five-months-old and had been “returned” to the breeder by a family who had young children. This family had decided that they were just not ready for all of the ongoing work involved in caring for a puppy. As I said earlier, I am older and wiser, and our own family had been through the puppy stages before and it really took about two years to get beyond all of the puppy issues. I could understand how a family might return a dog, and actually respected them for realizing that they and their children were not ready for this commitment yet. Now, I was not sure that we were either. So, we drive out to preview this puppy, and what puppy do you know of that is not totally precious? They are like any baby, all adorable, but they grow bigger and require more care, I know that being a pediatrician, (children and pets have many similar qualities). My husband on the other hand (who always swears, “we are just going to look”) immediately falls in love with the puppy. He is ready to bring her home, no questions asked. He immediately reminds me that the youngest son’s birthday is coming up, and this sweet lab puppy would be the perfect gift. Especially for a college boy who will be home in a day and will be so happy to have a “big dog” back in the house.! You don’t need to read any more, as you know what happens next. Puppy comes home that night, is already the love of the house and our son couldn’t be happier. The nice thing about having older children is that he can help with “potty training” this dog, and he does enjoy taking her for a run. He is also getting up early to let her out and feed her (not his favorite”) and he was in the yard with coat and gloves on cleaning up her “poop”. His comment “I didn’t know there could be so much poop from one animal!” There is much joy from owning a puppy and having it become an integral part of your family. At the same time it does require responsibility, and just like children you must set limits and boundaries. We are working on not jumping on furniture (again much like a toddler) and she is really almost potty trained. She can sit on command and we are working on laying down. She still wants to run out the door and into the street (hmmm, safety and toddlers), and I am not sure that she does not have selective hearing, also similar to my own children. The joys of pet ownership are great, but everyone in the family needs to be prepared for some responsibility. Discuss the challenges with your kids before you get a pet, so that they will help raise the kind of “child” we all aspire to as parents. That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

Your Baby

“Furry Pets” May Help Kids Avoid Some Allergies


You might think that having pets would be a nightmare if you have small children with a family history of allergies. A new study says that furry pets may actually help protect children against some allergies.

The infants’ mothers had a history of allergy, so the babies were at increased risk too, and it was once thought that pets might be a trigger for allergies in such children, the authors point out in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“Earlier it was thought that exposure to pets early in childhood was a risk factor for developing allergic disease,” said Dr. Merja Nermes of the University of Turku in Finland, who coauthored the research letter. “Later epidemiologic studies have given contradictory results and even suggested that early exposure to pets may be protective against allergies, though the mechanisms of this protective effect have remained elusive.”

Adding pet microbes to the infant intestinal biome may strengthen the immune system, she told Reuters Health by email.

The study team collected fecal samples from diapers when the babies were one month of age and these were tested for the DNA of two types of Bifidobacteria that are found specifically in animal guts: B. thermophilum and B. pseudolongum.

One third of infants from the pet-exposed group had animal-specific bifidobacteria in their fecal samples, compared to 14 percent of the comparison group. It’s not clear where the infants without furry pets at home acquired their gut bacteria, the authors write.

When the babies were six months old they had skin prick tests to assess allergies to cow’s milk, egg white, flours, cod, soybeans, birch, grasses, cat, dog, potato, banana and other allergens.

At six months of age, 19 infants had reactions to at least one of the allergens tested. None of these infants had B. thermophilum bacteria in their fecal samples.

Other studies have pointed out the connection between kids exposed to farm animals and household pets and building a better immune system.

“When infants and furry pets live in a close contact in the same household, transfer of microbiota between pets and infants occurs,” Nermes said. “For example, when a dog licks the infant´s face or hand, the pet-derived microbiota can end up via the mouth into the infant´s intestine.”

Human-specific Bifidobacteria have beneficial health effects, and animal-specific strains may also be beneficial, she said. It is still unclear, however, if exposure to these bacteria protects against allergies later in life, she said.

“Future research is needed to assess if these infants develop less atopic dermatitis, asthma or allergic rhinitis later,” she said.

Nermes also noted that she believes pediatricians should not discourage pregnant women or parents of infants from having pets in order to prevent allergies.

“If a family with a pregnant mother or an infant wants to have a pet, the family can be encouraged to have one, because the development of allergic disease cannot be prevented by avoiding pets,” she said.

Source: Kathryn Doyle,



Your Baby

Kid’s Exposure to Dogs May Help Prevent Asthma


It may sound like the opposite would be true, but a new study suggests that when children are exposed to dogs and other animals early on, they’re less likely to have asthma later in life.

Researchers looked at more than one million Swedish children. They found that those who grew up with dogs in the home were nearly 15 percent less likely to develop asthma than those not exposed to dogs.

This ties in with an earlier study that showed children who grow up on farms also have lower rates of asthma.

The study was led by author Tove Fall, assistant professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. In a university news release, she noted that "earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child's risk of asthma to about half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true for children growing up with dogs in their homes."

Fall said, "Our results confirmed the farming effect and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status."

Study senior author Catarina Almqvist Malmros, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, stressed that the finding is only relates to children who have not yet developed asthma or allergies.

"We know that children with established allergy to cats or dogs should avoid them," she said in the news release.

What about other pets, such as cats, birds or hamsters?  The jury is still out on that one.

"In this study, early exposure to dogs and farm animals reduced asthma risk, and this may or may not include other types of pets that children keep," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "The takeaway is that early exposure may reduce the incidence of a later pathological process," he said.

Experts have begin to warn parents that children raised in too sterile an environment are more prone to developing allergies and reactions to common bacteria and pet dander.  A little dirt and dander may be just what the doctor orders now to help prevent allergies and asthma later.

The findings were recently published online in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Source: Robert Preidt,

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What every parent needs to know about teen suicide.

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