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Choosing the right pet for children with special needs

Choosing the right pet for children with special needs

June 10, 2021

Choosing the right pet for any family is so important but it’s particularly important if you are introducing a pet into a family with a child who has special needs. More factors need to be taken into consideration such as sensory issues, allergies and the change of routine that they may bring. It’s vital that you consider all of the potential difficulties of having a pet before bringing one home, particularly if you are exploring pets for an autistic child. However, once you’ve considered the commitment and make the decision to go ahead, a pet can bring a lot of joy and be life-changing.

In this blog we will explore how to choose the right pet for your child when they have special needs.

Benefits of pet ownership for children with special needs

Pets can offer therapeutic benefits to kids with special needs. Here are some of the ways a pet can help a child who has special needs:

  1. A pet can provide companionship: Pets such as dogs can be a very good support system for your child and offer a bond and connection like no other.
  2. Pets help reduce stress and anxiety: Most children with special needs suffer from some form of anxiety. “The calm demeanor and loving presence of dogs can cause a perceived reduction in stress and cortisol levels in children,” says Danielle Mühlenberg, a dog behaviorist.
  1. Pets can help children with special needs stay active: Pets encourage children to be active such as playing fetch with their dog or taking their dog out for a walk, not only is exercise a great stress reliever it can also help your child stay physically active.
  2. Pets can teach children with special needs responsibility: Taking care of a pet, feeding them, playing with them and walking them etc will help your child create a schedule. This will teach them responsibility as well as developing skills to plan and manage time effectively.
pet family special needs therapeutic companionship


Best dogs for special needs child

There is lots of research that suggests that dogs can be a great pet for children with special needs, particularly those with autism. Some studies show that they make children smile more, can improve behaviour and be comforting resulting in reduced anxiety.

It’s important to consider whether your child might be ‘heavy handed’ with a dog, for example pulling their hair or squeezing them. If so, experts recommend having a dog from puppy age or as young as possible so that they can get used to each other. Rescue dogs with an unknown history are not recommended.

So, what’s the best dog for a special needs child? Labradors and Golden Retrievers are popular therapy dogs for children with autism, however, there isn’t a particular breed of dog that will bond better than another. It’s a good idea to select a breed that is calm and has a good temperament. It’s also beneficial to consider its energy levels, particularly as you will need to walk it.

There are some organisations that can help to train your dog to become a therapy dog if this is a route that you choose to take. Some dogs can also be trained to detect seizures in children who have epilepsy.

Pet cats for special needs children

If you haven’t got the time to look after and walk a dog, a cat might be a good pet for your family. Some children with autism like cats because they tend to look away and not like staring. They also tend to have a good routine and be more predictable.  Cats have good calming qualities, particularly if your child will allow them to sit on their lap so that they can stroke them.

Pet fish for special needs children

A fish tank can be extremely therapeutic and calming for some children with special needs. The water, lights and colours of the fish can be a great sensory experience. They are also fairly low maintenance, which can be beneficial for busy families.

Pet rats or guinea pigs for special needs children

Some pet experts feel that rats and guinea pigs can be great pets for children with special needs as they are often very gentle and calming. They are therefore possibly the best small pet for an autistic child. It is recommended that you know the temperament of the pet before introducing it to your child. Taking this into account, it is best to have an adult animal. Unlike hamsters, rats and guinea pigs don’t tend to bite or move fast so there is a reduced risk of injury and losing them!

Do you already have a pet in your family? We would love to hear about it and what difference it has made.

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