A new Finnish study finds children who have a dog or a cat around during the first year of life are healthier and develop fewer respiratory infections.
Researchers at a university in Finland followed nearly 400 babies to see if having a dog or cat would provide them any health benefits. They found kids who had a dog around for their first year of life were not only healthier overall, but had fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections than kids with no dog.
Cats provided similar benefits to babies, but not as strong as dogs. Researchers say animal contact may influence the maturation of an infant’s immune system, leading to shorter duration of infections and better resistance to respiratory infections during early childhood. Some pediatricians believe the findings may provide comfort to new parents.
Dr. Emma Raizman of the Cleveland Clinic said: "One question that I get asked a lot as a pediatrician is can I have a dog in the house? I have this new baby. Is that going to be a problem? So, this article really shows that in that first year it can actually be a good thing to have them both together. Now, you always want to make sure for safety reasons you never leave your baby alone with your dog, but when it comes to the immune system, having a dog in the home can help with that."
Complete findings for this study are in the journal Pediatrics.
The study found that dog ownership protected specifically against respiratory infections, which means less runny noses, less antibiotics, and less fussy trips to the doctor.