Dogs and Cats Make Toddlers Healthier
According to a new study, keeping dogs or cats at home when a toddler is around is beneficial to the baby’s health.
The research that appeared in the journal Pediatrics found that children who live in a home with a pet during their first year of life are more likely to be healthier, compared with kids who don’t. Researchers explained that sharing a home with a pet may be an early form of cross-training for the body’s defence systems, that dirt and microbes brought indoors by pets could help in boosting the child’s immune system.
The study included 397 children in Finland, who were followed by researchers from the time they were born until they turned one. The families reported how much contact they had with a dog or cat on a weekly basis. The researchers found that cats and dogs were linked to reduced incidence of various types of illness, and the effect was stronger for dogs than for cats. Babies who lived with dogs were 31 per cent more likely to be in good health than their counterparts who didn’t, and babies with cats had a six per cent advantage over those without feline family members. Children with pet dogs were as much as 44 per cent less likely to develop ear infections and 29 per cent less likely to have used antibiotics during their first year.
Interestingly, the study also found that while having a cat or dog correlated with good health, the benefit was biggest when those pets spent a lot of time outdoors. In cat-owning households, babies whose cats were indoors more than 16 hours a day were healthy 70.8 per cent of the time. But in homes where the cat was inside for less than six hours a day, babies were healthy 78.2 per cent of the time. Children with canines were healthy 72.2 per cent of the time, and that figure rose to 75.7 per cent for children whose dogs spent fewer than six hours indoors each day.
According to the researchers, pets that spend more time outdoors are likely to bring more dirt into the house, giving babies that much more opportunity to encounter it, thereby helping their immune systems to mature faster.