Childhood Exposure to Dogs Can Lessen the Risk of Developing Schizophrenia in Adulthood: Study
Sun, April 18, 2021

Childhood Exposure to Dogs Can Lessen the Risk of Developing Schizophrenia in Adulthood: Study

Having a family dog can benefit a child in many ways including their emotional intelligence. According to the American Kennel Club, there are positive effects of dog ownership on a child’s health such as higher self-esteem / Photo by: Cathy Yeulet via 123RF

 

Having a family dog can benefit a child in many ways including their emotional intelligence. According to the American Kennel Club, there are positive effects of dog ownership on a child’s health such as higher self-esteem. They also become more compassionate and have better cognitive skills. Recently, new research published by the Johns Hopkins Medicine school suggested that having a dog in childhood can lessen the chance of people developing schizophrenia as an adult. 


What Is Schizophrenia?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a pioneer in medical research, schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that makes people interpret reality in an abnormal way. This condition can result in a combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and erratic behavior that can generally impair their daily functioning, and it can also be disabling. People who are diagnosed with this condition usually require lifelong treatment, and early diagnosis can help get the symptoms under control before serious complications develop.

The prevalence of schizophrenia typically ranges from 0.2% to 0.4% of the population of countries and it was estimated that 20 million people in the world had the condition in 2017. Moreover, the causes of schizophrenia are not entirely known but professionals and researchers claimed that there is a combination of factors that can lead to the condition such as genetics, brain chemistry, and the environment. 

The prevalence of schizophrenia typically ranges from 0.2% to 0.4% of the population of countries and it was estimated that 20 million people in the world had the condition in 2017 / Photo by: Katarzyna Białasiewicz via 123RF


Dog Ownership Can Lessen the Chances of Schizophrenia 

A new study from the Johns Hopkins Medicine suggested that young children who grow up with a dog enjoy health benefits that include a lower chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult. As explained by the lead author of the study, Dr. Robert Yolken, who is also the chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurobiology and a professor of neurobiology in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children Center, many serious psychiatric disorders are associated with alterations in the immune system that are linked to environmental exposure during early childhood, and that includes household pets. Because of this, it was logical for the researchers to explore the connection of building a stronger immune system and being exposed to animals. 

The team’s research was published in the journal PLOS One wherein Yolken and his colleagues investigated the relationship and the correlation between early exposure to pets during the first 12 years of the life of a child and the later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in adulthood. They found out that there is a significant decrease in the risk of a person developing schizophrenia if they had a dog during their childhood years. However, the researchers warned that more studies are needed to confirm their findings and said that they will also search for other evidence to support their thesis. 

According to the American Pet Products Association, previous studies have already shown that early life exposure to pet dogs can increase the child’s immune system and make it stronger and more resilient. Yolken suspected that immune modulation can alter the risk of developing psychiatric disorders to which a person is genetically predisposed. 

The doctor and his team looked at a group of 1,317 men and women between the ages of 18 to 65 with 396 of them diagnosed with schizophrenia. The patients with a psychiatric disorder were recruited from inpatient day hospital and rehabilitation programs of Sheppard Pratt Health System while the rest of the participants were from the Baltimore area and screened to rule out any current or past psychiatric disorder. In the study, the participants were asked if they had a pet dog during the first 12 years of their life. The team’s findings revealed that the people who were exposed to a pet dog before their 13th birthday are 24% less likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia later on in their lives. Yolken claimed that there are several plausible explanations for this. For instance, it could be because of the canine microbiome that gets passed into humans that bolsters and strengthens the immune system or subdues the genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. 

Other ways children can benefit from having a pet dog:

Higher self-esteem – when children are given a sense of responsibility, such as taking care of a pet, they show improvement in self-esteem. However, the tasks must be age-appropriate and something that they can do without endangering themselves. 

More compassionate – studies have shown that children who own a dog are more empathetic toward others because they learn from an early age how to take care and nurture a dependent animal, which can also translate to them being more empathetic to people who are in need. 

Better cognitive skills – researchers suggested that children who talk to pets, whether as a way to give them praise or command, show significant improvement in their cognitive skills and development as they grow older. 

Physically healthier – children who have pet dogs have a decreased chance of developing allergies because of their early exposure to the microbiome of the animals. Other studies even claim that dogs have a probiotic-like effect on the human body. 

It’s no wonder then that dogs and cats today have graduated from merely being pets to well-loved members of the family.