Babies who are in close contact with dogs or cats during their first twelve months of life were found to enjoy better health and less likely to suffer from respiratory infections
The team had set out to determine what effect contact with dogs and cats might have on respiratory symptoms among children during their first year of life.
They followed 397 children from pregnancy up to the age of 12 months, and monitored how much contact they had during this period with dogs and/or cats. The babies’ parents were given a questionnaire which asked about their child’s contact with pets. All the infants were born in middle or eastern Finland between September 2002 and May 2005.
The protective effect of having a dog around
Babies who live with a dog in the house 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 had fewer symptoms of respiratory infections, suffered less often from respiratory diseases, and required shorter courses of antibiotics when ill, compared to other children of the same age with no exposure to dogs.
The frequency of ear infections was considerably lower among those with early regular contact with dogs, the authors added.
The protective effect on infants from having a pet cat was also detected, but it was not as strong as with dogs.
The investigators compared children with a dog which spent its time indoors temporarily or often, with those who had just a pet cat, and children with no pets.
They found that those with a pet dog in the house had the lowest risk of infections generally, as well as respiratory tract infections. Those with no pets in the house had the highest rates of infections.
Weekly and yearly contact with dogs were found to be closely linked to overall susceptibility to illness – the more contact there was, the lower the morbidity.
The scientists believe that early contact with animals impacts on the maturation of the immune system in infants, resulting in shorter-lasting infections and better resistance to respiratory infections.
In an Abstract in the journal, the authors wrote: