Why a dog is a child's best friend: They bring immune-boosting dirt and allergens into the home
By: Fiona Macrae / Source: Mail Online
They have long been thought of as man's best friend. But it seems dogs could also have benefits for babies.
Having a pet dog helps keep under-ones free from breathing problems and infections, studies suggest.
Researchers found babies who lived with a dog spent fewer weeks with ear infections, coughs or running noses. They were also less likely to need antibiotics.
Living with cats could also be good for babies' health, but to a lesser extent.
The finding knits with the hygiene hypothesis – that a certain amount of exposure to dirt and grime helps the immune system mature. Previous research has credited having a pet as a youngster with a lower risk of allergies.
In the latest study, published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from Kuopio University Hospital in Finland tracked the health of 397 infants during their first year.
Parents filled out weekly diaries starting when their child was nine weeks old, recording information on the baby's health, and contact with cats and dogs.
Based on those diaries and a year-end questionnaire, researchers determined that 35 per cent of the children spent the majority of their first year with a pet dog and 24 per cent in a home with a cat.
The majority of babies had at least some contact with a dog at their house during the study period and more than one third were exposed to a cat. Infants with no dog contact at home were healthy for 65 per cent of their parents' weekly diary reports. That compared with between 72 and 76 per cent for those who had a dog at home.
Babies in dog-owning families were also 44 per cent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 per cent less likely to need antibiotics.
Healthiest of all were those with a pet dog that spent no more than six hours inside the house. This, say the researchers, could be because these animals are spending more time outside and so bringing home more grime and bugs.
They added, though, that they could not rule out other explanations for the link, including differences between pet owners and those without animals at home.