Children who have a dog or cat or are around dogs and cats during the first year of life are reported to be healthier and have fewer respiratory infections than children without contact to these animals.
In the study, “Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts,” in the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online July 9) researchers followed 397 children in Finland from pregnancy to the age of 1 year and reported the amount of dog or cat contact they had each week.
Researchers found that even though respiratory infections and infectious symptoms are frequent during the first year of life, children with early dog contact seem to have fewer respiratory infectious symptoms and diseases, especially ear infections, and needed a shorter course of antibiotics. Cat ownership also showed a protective effect on infants, but not as strong as dogs. Children living in homes in which dogs spend indoors temporarily or often had the lowest risk of infections and respiratory tract infections.
Both the average weekly and yearly contact with dogs were associated with less morbidity in general, leading the authors to conclude that animal contacts may have an influence on the maturation of the immune system in infancy, leading to shorter duration of infections and better resistance to respiratory infections during early childhood.