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Pets Can Make Babies Healthier

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You may think that newborn babies need a clean and sterile environment to be healthy, but newly published studies indicate a house pet can help your infant be healthier.


We know that having a pet is good for us. Just stroking the fur of a dog or cat has been shown to lower a person’s blood pressure. But two recently published studies show that having a pet in the house early in life can help children stay healthier.

A couple of months ago a study published by the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin showed that exposure to dogs from infancy helps children’s risk of certain allergic diseases to be reduced. The study was conducted over a three-year period and targeted children who had at least one parent with allergies or asthma.

The researchers think that exposure to a dog, especially from birth, causes a child’s immune system to quickly develop stronger defenses to allergic reactions to pets.

On the heels of that good news comes a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Conducted by doctors in Finland, the researchers found that babies who shared their homes with dogs or cats during their first year of life were healthier than those who had no pets in the house.

It wasn’t only protection from allergies. The kids just didn’t get colds or ear infections – and didn’t have to take antibiotics – as often as those who were living pet-free. In some cases, the difference might be as much as ten percentage points or more.

One curious statistic had to do with the amount of time the pet spent inside the home. In households with dogs and cats who spent six hours or less indoors every day, the babies were even healthier than those with pets who spent the majority of the day inside.

The researchers speculate that animals who spend a lot of time outdoors may bring in more “stuff” – dirt or pollen or whatever – and so stimulate the child’s developing immune system to an even greater degree.

So, if you’re thinking you have to find a new home for your dog or cat because you have a baby on the way, you may want to rethink that plan. Turns out that a pet-free home may not be the best choice to keep your child healthy.

It’s just one more reason to call them our best friends, when we’re speaking of pets.

Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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