SUNDAY, July 31, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Raising a child with autism can be fraught with stressful days, but new research suggests the family pooch might bring parents some relief.

For more than two years, British researchers followed families of children with autism that got a dog.

"We found a significant, positive relationship between parenting stress of the child's main caregiver and their attachment to the family dog," said study leader Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln. "This highlights the importance of the bond between the caregiver and their dog in the benefits they gain.

"Stress associated with parenting a child with autism continued to decrease among dog owners over time, but we did not see the same reductions in families without a dog," Mills added in a university news release.

"This long-term follow-up study highlights the potential benefits of pet ownership in bringing long-term improvements to the lives of families living with a child with autism," he said.

Steven Feldman, executive director of the U.S.-based Human Animal Bond Research Initiative Foundation, said, "Parents of children with autism can experience increased anxiety and stress, and now we have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues."

He suggested that families dealing with autism consider pet ownership "as a way to improve family harmony."

The foundation funded the study, which was published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

More information

The National Alliance on Mental Illness has more about autism.