Children who are born and raised in families with cats or dogs have stronger defenses against infectious diseases, according to recent studies done in Finland.
The study, published in the medical journal Pediatrics, found that the amount of contact with the germs of pets in infancy directly relates to the strength of the immune system.
“These results suggest that dog contacts may have a protective effect on respiratory tract infections during the first year of life,” the report stated. “Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.”
Data collected from the study showed that children who had exposure to dogs within their first year of life were generally 35 percent healthier than their counterparts with no frequent pet contact.
Ear infections were 44 percent less likely to occur where pets were a part of the daily routine, and the need for antibiotics also decreased 29 percent in small children.
All of the 397 young boys and girls who participated were born in Finland between Fall 2002 and Spring 2005. The study monitored women in their pregnancy and followed them through the first 12 months of growth. Parents journaled daily about every cough, sneeze, and snot bubble that occurred for a year after the infants reached nine weeks. At the end of the study, participants completed a survey.
The presence of dogs was found to decrease instances of childhood asthma, but healthiest youngsters were those who had contact with animals that were not house pets.
Parents of children with dogs that lived inside the home reported being healthy 72.2 percent of the time period in which they were monitored, but that number jumped to 75.7 percent with pets that spent six hours or less inside the home. That statistic fell to 64.8 when there was no contact with a dog at all.
When cats were present in the home for more than 16 hours daily, children were healthy 70.8 percent of the time monitored. But when cats were present indoors for less than 6 hours a day, children were healthy 78.2 percent of the time, compared to the 66.1 percent health rate of kids where cat exposure was nonexistent.
According to The Los Angles Times, the study found that pets in the home bring more germs in from outside. This makes young immune systems work better and more efficiently than those that encounter less bacteria on a regular basis.