A new study conducted in Finland may have just proved man’s best friend is also baby’s best friend. Published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, the study suggests having pets—specifically cats or dogs—in the home may provide health benefits for children in the first year of life, reports ABC News.
The study followed 397 children from the time of their mothers’ pregnancy until their first birthday. The children who had dogs at home experienced a multitude of health benefits including strengthened immune systems, as well as fewer respiratory problems and ear infections. The study also found that when these children got infections they often lasted for a shorter period of time and fewer antibiotics were needed. Children with cats received similar benefits, but to a smaller degree.
The researchers link their findings with the possibility that the exposure to dirt is the key factor in strengthening children’s immune systems. The healthiest children spent somewhere between zero to six hours with the dog in the house, which researchers think may be the perfect balance for the amount of outdoor material the dog brings in the house and the exposure to the child.
While the researchers were careful to point out that pet ownership may not be the sole reason children were getting sick less, Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian, pointed out to ABC News that past research has supported this idea as well. “One study found that children who grow up on farms and ranches have stronger immune systems later in life," she said.
Do you have a cat or dog at home? Did you know about some of the potential health benefits to your children of pet ownership?