When your friendly dog cuddles up to the baby and gives her face a big lick, don’t panic. The baby may be healthier for it. Kristina Chew reported on a University of California study that showed:
Dust from households with dogs is different from dust from homes without pets and, says The Scientist, ‘now it appears this unique bacterial assemblage may confer an advantage to the youngest members of the household,’ if they are at risk for developing asthma.
A study published July 9th in the journal “Pediatrics” comes to a similar conclusion and gives parents more reasons to consider bringing a pet into baby’s life. Researchers from Finland and Germany followed 397 Finnish children from the third trimester of pregnancy through their first 12 months. Parents kept weekly diaries and filled out a questionnaire when the babies turned one.
The scientists found that children in homes with dogs had fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections than children in dog-free environments. They had fewer middle-ear infections and needed fewer courses of antibiotics.
Cats had a protective effect on respiratory health as well, though not as much as dogs. Both reduced the risk of gastroenteritis.
Dogs who spent less than six hours inside were the best health allies. The study’s authors speculated it might be because the dogs bring more dirt inside. That could increase the bacterial diversity children are exposed to, which might boost their immune systems.
Earlier studies linked asthma symptoms with pet ownership. This report’s authors suggest those studies may have included older children not exposed in the first year of life.
The researchers don’t claim pet ownership is a panacea. Bringing a dog into a house with an asthmatic or allergic child, for instance, could trigger sever reactions.
It looks as if that first year is the crucial time, while the body’s defense system is still maturing. As always, more research is needed to confirm the results, but it appears Fido just might make the difference to baby’s long-term health.
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