At a glance
Pets can be great companions for kids with ADHD.
They can teach kids responsibility and empathy.
Pets can have a positive influence on kids with ADHD, but they shouldn’t be brought into the home solely for that purpose.
If your child has ADHD and you’re thinking of getting a pet, you might wonder if it’s a good idea. Generally speaking, the answer is yes. Pets offer unconditional love and companionship.
They can also teach kids a lot about responsibility and empathy. That can mean a lot for some kids with ADHD (also known as ADD), who may struggle with these skills.
Here are answers to some common questions parents of kids with ADHD have about bringing a pet into the home.
Is there evidence that animals can help kids with ADHD?
There’s no clear evidence that interacting with animals has a direct positive effect specifically for children with ADHD. But some research suggests that it might.
One small study found that kids with ADHD did better in therapy when a therapy dog was part of the session. The dogs seemed to calm down the kids, lower their stress levels, and help “prime” them for therapy. (Therapy dogs are specially trained for this.)
But just having a pet around the house can also be good for kids with ADHD. Here are some reasons why:
- Caring for a pet can build time management skills. Your child will need to plan ahead to have time to feed and care for an animal.
- Walking and playing with a dog provides a great outlet for excess energy.
- Pets offer unconditional love and companionship.
- Petting and cuddling an animal can reduce feelings of anxiety and stress.
- Pets can make it easier to socialize. Animals attract attention and can be great conversation starters.
- Caring for an animal can help kids develop empathy. This is an area some kids with ADHD struggle with — particularly boys with ADHD.
It’s important to know that pets are not a “treatment” for ADHD, however. They shouldn’t be brought into your home with that specific goal.
What kind of pet is best for kids with ADHD?
There’s no one type of pet that’s better or worse. It really depends on your child and your family. So start by talking together about the kinds of animals your child loves.
Ask your child to imagine what it’ll be like to spend time with a pet. Maybe your child thinks a parakeet would be fun — but doesn’t realize that you can’t really cuddle with birds. And would your child be happy about cleaning droppings out of the cage? Also, be sure to consider whether your child has the impulse control not to hurt a fragile animal like a bird by accident.
Equally important is how a pet will fit in with the rest of the family. A playful puppy can be a great match for a kid with ADHD. But it’s important to think about whether you have the time and financial resources to care for the animal. Adding a needy pet to an already stressed or overwhelmed family environment won’t help anyone.
If we’re thinking of getting a dog, is there a particular breed that’s best for kids with ADHD?
It’s important to look for a dog that is tolerant, gentle, and trainable. Labrador and golden retrievers are popular family dogs for these reasons.
Small, delicate dogs, on the other hand, may not always be the best choice. Kids with ADHD may (lovingly) grab their pets or miss warning cues that the animal is scared or territorial.
The issue, however, is less about breed and more about the individual temperament of the animal and your child. If you’re buying a dog, talk to the breeder about your household and your child’s demeanor. Visit the litter and spend time with the puppies to get a feel for their personalities.
Rescue pups are a good option. But they’re more of a wild card since many have unknown histories. Be sure to spend significant time with a rescue animal before you bring it home. These pets can take extra time and training, so you’ll want to know what you’re in for before you commit.
What can we do to prepare our child and family for the pet’s arrival?
Surprising your child with an adorable pet can sound fun. It’s rarely a good idea, however. This is especially true for kids with ADHD, who often have trouble with transitions.
Your child may seem thrilled if you agree to take home a kitten from an adoption event at the town park. But maybe your child will quickly lose interest in an animal that needs attention and affection.
Let your child be part of the whole process. It’s good practice when it comes to executive functions. That includes focusing, planning, and following through with a “project.”
Research potential pets together. Make a list of what you’ll need to buy for the animal and figure out where it will live in the house. Look into a training class if you’re getting a dog, and work on training the dog together. Draw up a schedule that shows who will be responsible for walking, feeding and other chores related to the pet.
Some parents draw up contracts that have kids commit to caring for their pets. If this kind of commitment would be overwhelming for your child, team up instead. You can work together, be flexible, and have a backup plan in place for walking, cleaning, or feeding the animal in case your child slips up.
Kids may insist that they’ll take care of a pet. But they just might not be able to stay focused enough or remember what to do. Be prepared to take on some of the work.
Also, make sure you factor in the whole family. It’s important that everyone is on board with getting a pet. It can create problems if they’re not.
Are there some kids with ADHD who shouldn’t have a pet?
There may be cases where some kids with ADHD really shouldn’t have a pet. Kids with severe impulse control issues or who are aggressive can harm an animal without meaning to.
This doesn’t mean these kids should never have a pet. They may just have to mature and gain better control of themselves before they can live with an animal.
If you’re not sure your child is ready, there are things you can do prepare for the responsibility of having a pet. Get tips for helping your child gain self-control. Discover other chores and responsibilities that are good for kids with extra energy. And find strategies that can help your child with ADHD manage emotions.
There isn’t just one kind of pet or breed that’s best for kids with ADHD.
Pets shouldn’t be a surprise. Allow your child to prepare for a new family member.
The pet you choose needs to meet the needs and energy level of your child, as well as the schedule and resources of your family.
Tell us what interests you
About the author
About the author
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.
Ellen Braaten, PhD is the director of LEAP at Massachusetts General Hospital.