Finding a cat hair on a baby’s pacifier, seeing the dog lick a baby on the mouth – for some parents, these are cringe-worthy moments.
Introducing four-legged children to a new baby is often on the mounting list of concerns for parents-to-be. In a world that increasingly values antibacterial this and hypoallergenic that, pets can get a bad rap including old wives’ tale about cats trying to smother newborns.
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics may help both pets and parents can breathe a sigh of relief as it suggests that having pets may lead to healthier children, reported the Los Angeles Times. Children who live in homes with dogs or cats experienced fewer illnesses in their first year of life than children without pets.
Cleaner isn’t always better, the study says. Children whose respiratory, immune, and gastrointestinal systems have to compete with dust, dander, dirt, and microbes that pets bring in the home tend to be stronger than children who live in more sterile environments. Children in pet-loving families have been shown to have fewer cases of gastroenteritis, respiratory and ear infections.
The study, conducted in Finland, tracked 397 children born between September 2002 and May 2009. Parents kept health journals about their babies, marking when the children experienced runny noses, coughs, ear infections, and when they took antibiotics. The participants completed a survey once their children celebrated their first birthday.
The study found:
- Babies living with dogs in the house were 31% more likely to be healthy than babies with no pets.
- Babies living with cats in the house were 6% more likely to be healthy than babies with no pets.
- Children with dogs were 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to use antibiotics in their first year.
The study showed the amount of time pets spent in the home marked a difference in infant health.
In houses where cats spent more than 16 hours a day indoors, babies were healthy 70.8% of the time, but that percentage jumped to 78.2% for babies whose pet cats spent less than six hours a day inside. In comparison, babies who lived without cats were healthy 66.1% of the time. Babies who lived with indoor dogs were healthy 72.2% of the time, but that increased to 75.7% when dogs spent less than six hours in the house. Babies in homes without dogs were healthy 64.8% of the time.
Danelle Fischer, vice chair of pediatrics at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, told the LA Times that the Finnish study supports previous research about the correlation between fewer allergies among children in homes with pets.
“It’s more support in a growing body of evidence that exposure to pets early in life can stimulate the immune system to do a better job of fighting off infection,” Fisher told the LA Times. “It’s actually very helpful to have a cat or dog around because we tend to see less allergies. And now I can tell [parents] we’ve even seen less chance of upper respiratory infection in the first year of life.”
Follow Elise Rambaud Marrion on Twitter @emarrion_cmn.