Want healthier kids? The trick just might be to get a dirty dog!
Researchers in Finland followed 397 children born between 2002 and 2005, asking parents to keep a diary of their children’s health, illnesses, and prescribed treatments. What did they find? Babies in families that included a pet — namely a dog or a cat — were 44 percent less likely to contract ear infections and 29 percent less likely to end up prescribed antibiotics than their pet-free counterparts. Babies who lived alongside dogs were 31 percent more likely to experience a healthy first year than families without a dog, while babies who shared their home with cats were 6 percent healthier in their first years than babies with no exposure to cats.
According to Dr. Eija Bergroth, the pediatrician at Kuopio University Hospital who helmed the study, “We think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them.”
In other words, some of that dirt and dust your dog brings in after a walk might help babies develop immunity to colds and infections. Even more interesting, researchers observed that babies living with pets who spent their time both indoors and outdoors were healthier than those who lived with indoor-only pets, further strengthening the argument that a little bit of dirtiness can still be next to godliness (or, at least, better heath!).
This coincides with other research that suggests that early exposure to pets may actually help babies resist developing allergies and asthma. Yours truly grew up with cats and dogs, and despite testing extremely allergic to both, I rarely experience symptoms in the presence of furry friends, and I manage to stave off colds and flu while everyone else around me gets sick. I’ll have to remember to thank my parents for bringing a home a dog from the shelter shortly after bringing me home from the hospital!