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How Can a Pet Help My Child with Special Needs?

 November 25, 2015

By  Kimberly German

It has long been said that dog is man’s best friend.  A soft, warm dog is good for the human soul.  Studies have shown that when people pet animals their blood pressure, heart rate and temperature decrease. Pets are also a great source of companionship; they reduce stress and anxiety, improve your mood, promote heart health, and enhance the immune system.

Service, or assistance, dogs have been used around the word for many years.  These dogs have undergone months of training to learn their “job”.  They have been specially trained to assist their owner with:

  • Sight
  • Seizures
  • Heart issues
  • PTSD
  • Mental Illness
  • Mobility impairment
  • Diabetes

But there are those special souls out there who have had no training, and often come from horrible situations, that have managed to change someone’s life forever…and sometimes that life is one of a special needs child.

Meet Johnny and his best friend Xena


…and Joey and Roxy


Having a dog or pet can be beneficial for child development in a number of ways including keeping kids active and promoting empathy, self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.  A recent study compared how 5-13 children on the spectrum interacted with adults and neurotypical peers in the presence of two guinea pigs compared to toys.  In the presence of guinea pigs the children showed increased social behaviors.

The children were:

  • More talkative
  • Looking at faces
  • Making physical contact

They were also more receptive to social advances demonstrated by an increase in smiling and laughing.

But dogs may be particularly beneficial for children with autism by:

  • Providing unconditional love
  • Being nonjudgmental to differences
  • Providing companionship

A dog can help to build assertiveness and confidence during interactions with others according to new research from the University of Missouri.


While dogs and other pets are good for some kids with disabilities, they may not be the best option for every child.  You need to consider each child’s sensitivities as well as family dynamics in carefully considering pet ownership.  Do your research and speak to treating providers before taking on the responsibility of a pet; remember, they are a lifetime commitment!

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