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Children Living in Cities Benefit From Having a Pet, Study Says

Is your kid asking you for a dog, again? Before you think you can't have one if you live in the city, see all the reasons why you actually should. The benefits of animals go beyond the warm fuzzy feels.

Happy Little Girl Holding Puppy Dog bbernard/Shutterstock

Sometimes letting your kids get a little dirty is not such a bad thing. Experts discovered that kids who are raised in rural environments, surrounded by animals and the bacteria-laden dust that comes along with it, grow up to have stronger immune systems. Moreover the research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that this presence of dust and bacteria contributed to a more stress-resilient body, meaning these kids were at a lower risk of mental illness, compared to their pet-free city dweller friends.

"The lack of exposure to a diverse microbial environment during childhood development leads to a failure of the immune system to terminate inappropriate inflammation when it hits, especially in psychiatric disorders where we've found inflammation is an important risk factor in your mental health," say co-author Christopher Lowry, a professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder. In the study, participants who grew up in cities had significantly higher levels of immune system components called peripheral blood mononuclear cells after a stressful experience. While genetic predisposition and major stressful life events can lead to mental illness, scientists aren't ruling out impaired immunoregulation due to a lack of exposure to nature and animal germs.

Although it's nice to have a furry companion for all the extra love they bring your kids, the key to owning a pet is actually the outside germs they carry around. "A country lifestyle or living on a farm with animals has a protective effect that rubs off on your child's development," Lowry says. So while the farm life inherently has its perks, city kids can get all the same immune response boosts from animals, too. So the next time your little one asks for Fido, check out these reasons to get a pet before you say no...

Kids with pets get outside more: While it's obvious pets are entertaining, canine companions need to go for walks, so your child is going to run, play and get outside more often. Experts found that kids who had a dog exercised on average 11 minutes more a day than other children who didn't have one. Even though it doesn't sound like a lot of time, those extra minutes each day adds up to some serious benefits as your kids get older.

Pets help kids read: Second-grade children in a Tufts University study who read out loud to their pet improved their reading skills by increasing their words-per-minute rate compared to their buddies who read to a human, like mom or dad. When paired with a pooch these students stayed committed to a reading program for the totality of five weeks instead of dropping out early, as their buddies who didn't have dogs did.

Animals love unconditionally: There's a reason they're called "horse whisperers." Children who exhibit any physical or emotional challenges respond to pets because they intuitively recognize that they can trust the animal. No need to sign up for riding lessons though: A Swedish study found that those who had spent just 10 minutes with a furry friend had increased oxytocin levels (the natural hormones released when something feels good). So if you're concerned that your child is feeling lonely or being bullied, a pet might help boost your child's self-esteem, provide comfort and give support. (Fun fact: The discovery of an Isreali man buried with his arms around a wolf-pup dating back 12,000 years ago is proof that humans have always realized the emotional benefits to having a four-legged friend!)