Researchers found that babies who spend time with a dog or cat during the first twelve months of their lives are generally healthier and have lower risk of developing respiratory infections, compared to those who don’t have exposure to any pets. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers from the Kuopio University Hospital of Finland followed 397 babies from pregnancy to the age of 12 months. During the study, parents submitted weekly updates on their children’s health and how much contact their children had with pets. Overall, 62% of the babies had a dog, and 34% had a cat at some point during the study.
Researchers found that babied who had exposure to dogs or cats at home were healthier than those who had no contact with pets. Babies who lived with dogs during their first twelve months of life were 30% less likely to get sick. There were 44% fewer ear infection, and 29% fewer treatments with antibiotics. Pets, dogs in particular, could protect babies against common respiratory tract infections. Cats could also guard babies against infections, but the effect was not as strong as dogs.
Bergroth, M.D., the lead author suggested: “One possible explanation might be that the dogs bring something inside the house -- dirt, soil -- that affects the immune maturation of the child, leading to more composed immunologic reactions to infectious agents later when the child comes in contact with viruses and bacteria.”