A new study is reporting that babies that live in homes with dogs for the first year of their life may be less susceptible to ear infections, coughs, and runny noses; symptoms of the common cold. Researchers from Finland followed 397 children from pregnancy through their first year of life, and found that those living with dogs developed 31 percent less respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent less ear infections and received 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions.
Based on weekly diaries that the infants parents recorded, the researchers found that babies in homes with dogs were healthy for 72 to 76 percent of the weekly reports, compared to 65 percent for those who did not have a dog at home.
Study researcher, Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland said “We speculated that maybe the dogs somehow can bring dirt or soil inside the house, and then the immune system is strengthened, or maybe it’s something about the animals themselves.”
Dr. Jennifer Appleyard, chief of allergy and immunology at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said, “Having pets may have some positive aspects. Pets may offer some protection against developing a propensity for infections or atopic diseases, but I think the development of the immune system is very complicated.”
The results of this study go hand in hand with the theory that children exposed to too-clean environments are more likely to develop asthma and allergies because their immune systems have not built up any resistance to the things that cause them.
“We associate exposure to dog and cat dander with lower allergy and asthma rates. But this paper is saying that, for reasons unknown, there is a protective mechanism at work lowering rates of infectious diseases,” said Dr. Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., who was not involved with the study.