Don't Get Rid of Your Pets Just Yet!

by Garreth Myers


One of the biggest worries when it comes to babies and having a pet at home is the risk of your child developing an allergy to the animal fur and falling ill. As a parent-to-be, you may be advised to take extra care to keep the house fur free and super clean or may even be told to get rid of your pet before bringing a new baby home. Wait just a moment before you do that! According to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, having a pet at home may actually help keep your baby healthier. Results of the study proved that children from homes with dogs or cats got sick less frequently than children from homes without any pets. It now seems that an overly clean environment during the first year of life may do more harm than good.

For the study, researchers from the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland tracked the health of nearly 400 babies in Finland during their first twelve months. Parents of the children maintained diaries that documented various aspects of their children's health from the amount of times they had colds, coughs or ear infections to the number of times they were given antibiotics to treat an illness. Other factors that may have influenced the children's health such as siblings, weather, travel etc. were also taken into consideration. Researchers discovered that babies who lived in homes with pets were less likely to fall ill and require antibiotics than their counterparts who lived in cat or dog-free homes. In fact, the study states that children with dogs at home had a distinct health advantage over those with cats. Compared to kids without pets, children with dogs were 31% more healthy and children with cats only 6%. The report went so far as to mention that children with dogs were 44% less likely to develop an ear infection and 29% less likely to require any form of antibiotics during their first year. Children with cats or dogs at home were less likely to develop gastrointestinal infections as well.

It is believed that exposing your baby to the dirt and germs brought into the home by a pet cat or dog helps build up his immune system at an early stage. This off course should not be taken to mean that you can turn your home into a pig sty! It simply means that a pet free house offers a baby an environment that is too sterile. Microbes and pet dander could help increase the levels of healthy bacteria and yeast in the baby's developing system and result in a healthier infant. Another interesting discovery was that babies were healthier when their pets spent more time outdoors. A simple explanation for this is that dogs that spend more time outdoors ultimately bring more dirt and germs back into the home and this only helps strengthen the baby's immune system further, causing it to mature faster than it naturally would. The correlation between good health and cats was not as strong and this could be attributed to a cat's natural predilection for hygiene and cleanliness as compared to their canine counterparts.

So does this mean that parents should go out and get a pet to improve their child's health? Well, according to the researchers, the link between good health and pets at home is the strongest for children below the age of one. Once the child crosses the twelve-month mark, the benefits are not that impressive. This is because a baby's immune system is still developing during the first year and early low-dose exposure to pet hair and germs may be the best way to introduce the concept of friendly or harmful microbes to the system. The bottom line is that while you should not get a pet merely to improve the health of your baby, if you do already have a pet at home, you can stop worrying about the damage being done.

References:

  1. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/07/03/peds.2011-2825.abstract

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