Dogs may not be just man’s best friend – they could be baby’s best friend too. In addition to the emotional benefits of having a pet, there appears to be physical health benefits too. A recent study from Finland adds to the evidence that pets, particularly dogs, improve children’s health.
The study, published earlier this year in Pediatrics, followed 397 children from rural and suburban settings through their first year. Indoor contact with dogs and cats was correlated with frequency of childhood infections. The analyses took into account other factors: breastfeeding, birth weight, number of siblings, and parental health. The researchers found that children with indoor contact with dogs:
• had fewer incidents of fever, infections and colds
• were less likely to be given antibiotics
• had half as many inner ear infections, and
• were just generally more healthy.
The study also found that the more contact the children had with the dog and the more time the dog spent outside the house, the greater the benefits. Curiously cats didn't provide the same benefits, but did not cause any health problems either. This and other similar studies support the “hygiene hypothesis” – that increased exposure to microbes (germs) early in life boosts the infants’ immune systems, not only increasing resistance to respiratory infection but also reducing the risk of allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema.
There are many factors to consider by a family with young children in the decision to have an indoor pet. But fear of the children getting sick from the pet need not be one of them.
For more information on this or other natural health topics, stop in and talk to Stan; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.