Furry pets make young ones healthier

July 12, 2012

There may be a good medical reason for parents to get a dog or cat as a pet. It appears that children exposed to a dog or cat in their homes during the first year of life are healthier than those without a furry family member. More >>

There may be a good medical reason for parents to get a dog or cat as a pet. It appears that children exposed to a dog or cat in their homes during the first year of life are healthier than those without a furry family member

Researchers conducted a birth cohort study in which they followed from pregnancy onward 397 children born in Finland between 2002 and 2005. They charted the incidence of respiratory symptoms and infections along with dog and cat exposure using weekly diaries and the answers to a questionnaire given to parents when their children turned 1 year.

Among the participants, 245 children had dog contact and 136 had cat contact at home during the study weeks. The researchers found that both dog and cat contact in early infancy was associated with less morbidity (ie, more healthy weeks) during the children’s first year.

However, dog contact was associated with greater protection against respiratory infectious disease morbidity than contact with cats. The investigators found that the children living with a dog had about 30% fewer respiratory tract symptoms and infections and about half as many episodes of otitis and needed about 30% fewer courses of antibiotics than the children living without a canine friend.

Toddlers living in environments in which dogs spent only part of the day indoors (<6 hours) had the lowest risk of respiratory infections and symptoms. The investigators surmise that the part-time indoor dogs go in and out of the home more frequently, bringing more dirt and bacterial diversity into the living environment, which in turn diversifies the immune protection afforded to the children.

In the end, the investigators theorize that early animal contact helps to mature the young immunologic system, leading to greater resistance to and shorter duration of respiratory infections.

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