Tips on buying a pet for a child with ADHD

Interaction with animals often has a calming effect on humans. This effect may be particularly beneficial if your child has ADHD. Although pets can have positive emotional and physical influences on special needs children, however, they must be chosen with care.

Tips on buying a pet for a child with ADHD

1. How can a pet benefit your ADHD child?

According to a study published in the Frontiers of Psychology, the release of the natural hormone oxytocin is stimulated when there is interaction between a human and a pet. Oxytocin helps to increase trust and reduce fear, and may also boost a child's ability to interact socially. Other benefits of pet ownership include:

  • Lowered stress levels. The presence of a pet may reduce the amount of cortisol produced by the body. Cortisol is a stress-response hormone. High levels increase tension in a child.
  • Decreased blood pressure and heart rate. Interacting with an animal lowers blood pressure and heart rate, promoting heart health.
  • Increased empathy and positivity. Bonding with a pet encourages children to be empathetic to the animal and other humans, while playing with a pet elevates levels of dopamine and serotonin, hormones which relax and calm.
  • Learning benefits. A pet in the home may help your child to do tasks faster, increase concentration and listening skills, and improve motivation.

2. What type of pet should you choose for your ADHD child?

It's important to take a variety of factors into consideration before obtaining a pet for your child.

  • Size of your home. Dogs need space to exercise. If your home and yard are small, a guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or cat may make a more suitable pet.
  • Daily routines. Dogs must be walked daily, while the cages, runs or litter boxes of smaller pets should be cleaned out every day.
  • Food and bedding. Pets have specific nutritional needs and correct foods need to be bought, which may add to the cost of caring for an animal. Every pet needs a bed, whether it's a large dog bed, a cozy cat crib or a thick layer of hay.
  • Long-term commitment. A pet deserves affection and attention every day. Owning a pet is a long-term commitment, as pets may live for many years.

3. Structured routines

  • Children with ADHD thrive in an atmosphere of structured routines.
  • Pet ownership may help improve your child's ability to follow a schedule.
  • It's a good idea to draw up a pet care chart, which serves as a reminder of tasks that need to be done by your child.
  • This helps to encourage responsible behaviour and can help your child burn off excess energy when he or she is scheduled to exercise the pet.

4. Where to find a pet?

Contact your local SPCA, humane society or animal shelter for suggestions as to the best places to find pets.

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