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Kids with pets can gain multiple health benefits

Aug. 17, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

Santa's Little Helper, Lassie and Scooby Doo clearly bring joy to the make-believe kids they live with. But your real kids can get real health benefits. Studies show that infants who live with dogs have fewer respiratory infections and less risk of developing asthma. But cats, as well as dogs, do help strengthen the immune system, reduce stress (good for hyperactive kids) and get kids out walking and playing more often. These pets help fight childhood obesity -- now hitting 20 percent -- and a fit kid has a much better chance of a long and healthy life.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does have some suggestions if you're thinking about getting a pet: Never leave a child 3 or younger alone with a cat or dog; kids can't control their impulsiveness and may provoke an animal. And don't expect children younger than 10 to be able to really care for a pet; that'll be mostly your job. Work with your children so they can learn how to treat the animal, feed and clean up after it, and provide discipline and training.

On the off chance that you bring home a pet and it makes your child uncomfortable or unhappy (occasionally, young kids find dogs scary or overwhelming), don't feel defeated. Find the animal another good home and look into adopting a smaller pet, such as a gerbil or hamster. Love and caring for any pet brings joy into children's and adults' lives.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information go to www.RealAge.com.