Lots of couples think if they’re expecting a baby, they’ll have to get rid of their pets because of dander, dirt and hair. Actually a new study shows that kids and pets are a healthy combo.
According to a recent study from Finland, kids who grew up with dogs or cats tended to have fewer respiratory infections during their first year.
Researchers followed 397 children from pregnancy through their first year of life, and found that those living with dogs developed 31 percent fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent fewer ear infections and received 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions.
Cats also proved to be beneficial buddies although not as dramatically as dogs. Infants living with cats were still less likely to need antibiotics, but only by 2 percent. Researchers offered an opinion on why that might be.
“We speculated that maybe the dogs somehow can bring dirt or soil inside the house, and then the immune system is strengthened, or maybe it’s something about the animals themselves," said study researcher Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland.
The link between pets and fewer infections held even when researchers took into account factors known to affect infants’ infection rates – such as breast-feeding and number of siblings. Still, the researchers acknowledged that couldn't account for all such factors, and noted that they found a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship.
Of the 397 children participating in the study, 35 percent lived in homes with dogs, and 24 percent lived with cats. The scientists also included pet contact outside the home.
"According to our results, there’s no reason to be afraid of animal contact, or to avoid them," Bergroth said. While many people preparing to have a child attempt to create an extremely hygienic environment, Bergroth said, the results show this may not be the best choice, because the immune system is not challenged.
This train of thought ties into previous studies that have shown that kids who live in a “too –clean” environment have more colds, infections, allergies and asthma than kids who live on farms or play outside a lot. The study’s findings could imply that a pet offers an environment that challenges a young child’s immune system and helps it grow stronger.
Bergroth said she hopes the research will stop people from thinking that if "they’re having children, they should get rid of animals."
Bergroth emphasized that the children studied lived in rural or suburban areas, so the study results may not translate to urban children. But she also said that urban pets may not track in the same dirt.
Of course there are lots of other reasons that you might want to share your home with a pet, but it’s nice to know that your dog or cat (or both!) could also help your child’s immune system develop into a germ-fighting machine.