Is Your Pet Keeping Your Child Healthy?

If you have a dog or cat in the home and your child is less than one year old, it’s possible that exposure to the animals has reduced the number of respiratory symptoms and infections your baby will experience during its first year. 

Do pets mean fewer symptoms?

A study published in the journal Pediatrics last month concludes that babies who were exposed to dogs and/or cats during the first year of life suffered fewer respiratory infections than their peers without pets.

The study was conducted in Finland with nearly 400 participating babies. Data about pet exposure, the child’s health, and other associated factors were collected for each child by the child’s caregiver in a weekly diary or log. 

Dogs better than cats; cats better than none

Children who had some exposure to a dog that spent at least 6 hours per day inside the house were found to have significantly fewer respiratory symptoms or illnesses involving coughs and runny or stuffy noses.

Babies in households with cats fared better than those without any pets but not as well as those living in households with dogs.

Intriguing findings, but more research is needed

Does this mean you should get a dog or cat? Absolutely not! A pet is a huge responsibility--don’t do it unless you are really ready for all that is involved with pet ownership. And besides, this study is far from conclusive. For one thing, the researchers were only looking at children up until the age of 1 year. No one can say if 2- and 3-year-olds would have yielded the same results.

The study’s findings do, however, suggest a relationship between having a dog or cat and a baby having fewer respiratory illnesses. The scientists have a long way to go before proving this theory, though, so it will make for interesting future research. 

Future studies

If the study’s findings really do turn out to be true, this research will raise the question of how pet exposure triggers a baby’s immune system to mature faster—and that information might eventually lead scientists to develop a way to prevent everybody from getting so many colds, even those of us who don’t own a pet.

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