A Pediatrics journal study reveals the effects of dog and cat contacts on the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections during the first year of life. The study finds that children with pets at home have fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections and are, thus, healthier than children without contact with dogs and cats.
The study followed 397 children from pregnancy onward. The children were all born in eastern or middle Finland between September 2002 and May 2005. Using weekly diary reports and a questionnaire at the age of 1 year, results were compiled regarding the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections coupled with information about dog and cat contacts during the first year.
The Specific Results
In multivariate analysis, children having dogs at home were than children with no dog. Furthermore, children having dog contacts at home had less frequent otitis –inflammation of the ear caused by infection—and, therefore, needed fewer sequences of antibiotics than children without such contacts. In a single variable analysis, there is decreased respiratory infectious disease morbidity associated with both the weekly amount of contact with dogs and cats and the average yearly amount of contact.
The Dog’s Protective Effect
The study shows that despite respiratory infections and symptoms being common during a child’s first year, children who had contact with dogs early in life tend to have fewer infections.
They found that despite respiratory infections and infectious symptoms being common during a human’s first year of life, children who had contacts with dogs early in life were healthier. Specifically, children with dogs had fewer symptoms of respiratory infections, suffered less often from respiratory diseases, and required shorter series of antibiotics when ill, compared to other children of the same age with no exposure to dogs.
Of special note, the frequency of ear infections was considerably lower among those with early regular contact with dogs, the authors added.
The Cat’s Protective Effect
The protective effect on infants from having a pet cat was also detected, but it was not as strong as with dogs. The researchers compared children with a dog that spent its time indoors temporarily or often, with those who had just a pet cat, and children with no pets whatsoever.
Evidence shows children who have a pet dog in the house have the lowest risk of infections generally, as well as respiratory tract infections. Children with no pets in the house have the highest rates of infections. Weekly and yearly contact with dogs was found to be closely connected to overall vulnerability to illness—the more contact there was, the lower the morbidity.
The scientists believe that early contact with pets influences the development of the immune system in infants, resulting in shorter-lasting infections and better resistance to respiratory infections.
The researchers’ abstract states: “These results suggest that dog contacts may have a protective effect on respiratory tract infections during the first year of life. Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.”
If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, getting a dog or cat may have a positive influence on the health of your baby’s first year. Whether or not you decide to get a pet when you are expecting, it is always important to contact a pregnancy physician or midwife as early as possible.