The 10 Best Pets for Children with Anxiety

Baby boy sleeping with kitten. Child and cat.
© FamVeld/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Sharon Parry

Published: February 14, 2024

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Anxiety in children is an increasing and worrying public health problem. Research now estimates that up to 1 in 8 children in the US suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. Amongst children aged between 13 and 18 years old, the prevalence is as much as 25 percent. That adds up to a lot of anxious children! Studies have also shown that pets can have a significant impact on this condition in children, possibly by inducing ‘feel good’ hormones, but there are likely to be other mechanisms. We know that pets boost positive emotions, often to a greater extent than other interventions and strategies. So, let’s take a look at the 10 best pets for children with anxiety.

Dogs

beagle and owner

Many dogs are sensitive to people’s emotional state.

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Not only do dogs immediately lighten the mood in any environment they happen to be in, but they are also sensitive to the emotional state of the humans around them. Any dog can help calm anxiety in children, but Labrador retrievers, poodles, and great danes are among the most effective. You also need to choose a breed that fits into your household and lifestyle because an unhappy dog will not be so helpful with anxious humans.

Cats

A bengal Cat in the living room on the couch with child

Purring is a soothing sound for anxious children.

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A cat’s warm, furry body and purrs have been shown to alleviate stress. Simply petting a cat makes a child’s body produce anxiety-relieving hormones – it can even reduce their heart rate. Also, cats purr at a frequency of 20-140 Hz. Sounds at this frequency are soothing for humans and lower stress levels. A friendly or laid-back breed may be the best choice such as an Abyssinian, a ragdoll, or a Persian.

Guinea Pigs

Portrait of orange guinea pig with red eyes in hands. Breeding and care of pets, domestic animals

Children can help to care for guinea pigs.

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Guinea pigs are adorable little pets and look to their owners as pack leaders. This means that they check in with the emotional state of their human family. These guys are loving and attentive and are the emotional support animals of choice in many institutions. They can learn to recognize your child’s mannerisms and voice and become a devoted companion.

Hamsters

Pet hamsters are relatively easy to care for.

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With the right care, hamsters can provide a lot of stress relief for children. They are relatively easy to care for, and children can be involved in feeding them and cleaning out their cages. Many hamsters are happy to be held and petted as long as you introduce this gradually from a young age. The only downside is that hamsters have a limited lifespan so it is important to prepare your anxious child for this.

Rabbits

Pet rabbit

Some rabbits are affectionate pets for anxious children.

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Rabbits can be kept as indoor or outdoor pets. Most are happy to be held, and they can form strong bonds with their owners. Some breeds, such as the mini rex, can be very affectionate and even climb onto your lap for cuddles! They live for up to 14 years, so this is a long-term commitment for the family.

Fish

Watching fish can be soothing for anxious children.

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Scientific studies have shown that observing fish improves relaxation and anxiety. It’s common to find aquaria in medical establishments and schools because of their calming effect. They can be highly effective at drawing an anxious child’s attention away from what is upsetting them. Fish are the third most popular pet in the US, behind dogs and cats. A simple fish tank can be set up on a limited budget, and even young children can help feed them.

Horses

Horse and boy - child riding horseback in winter

Leading and grooming horses can help anxious children.

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Horses have a stable heart rhythm, which may explain why humans feel calmer when they are around them. You don’t even have to ride a horse if you don’t want to! Simply stroking, grooming, feeding, and leading horses promotes mindfulness and eases feelings of anxiety and stress. Obviously, owning a horse is beyond the means of most families but many areas offer equine therapy sessions for children.

Crickets

Camel cricket sitting on cement

Keeping crickets as pets can help with mental health.

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Crickets can be great pets for kids. You need a suitable fishbowl or terrarium and substrate as well as appropriate food and water. These insects are popular pets in many Asian countries, and they have been shown to improve the mental state of the elderly. So, why not try some for your anxious child?

Rats

Pet rat being pet by children

Children can form strong bonds with pet rats.

©iStock.com/Olga Evtushkova

These rodents may not be top of everyone’s list of desired pets, but there are many benefits for anxious children in owning a pet rat. It instills a sense of routine, which is helpful for many anxious states. Rats are also surprisingly perceptive when it comes to picking up on human emotions and can form strong bonds with their owners. Some well-cared-for pet rats have even lived up to seven years!

Snakes

Best Animals For Kids

Corn snakes are probably the best option for a beginner snake owner.

©iStock.com/Vagengeym_Elena

Huntercombe Hospital in the UK has started recruiting reptile ‘therapists’ to help patients with anxiety and depression. Angel is a five-foot-long corn snake who regularly takes part in group sessions where patients can hold and care for her. The hospital claims that patients taking part in the Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) are already benefiting. A corn snake could be a great option for your anxious child. Most of them are happy to be touched and form strong bonds with their owners. Do your research first to make sure that you know how to care for your snake properly.


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About the Author

Dr Sharon Parry is a writer at A-Z animals where her primary focus is on dogs, animal behavior, and research. Sharon holds a PhD from Leeds University, UK which she earned in 1998 and has been working as a science writer for the last 15 years. A resident of Wales, UK, Sharon loves taking care of her spaniel named Dexter and hiking around coastlines and mountains.

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