Finnish babies who live with a dog—or, to a lesser extent, a cat—have fewer ear infections, coughs or runny noses. They are also less likely to need antibiotics than infants in pet-free homes, according to a fresh study.
"These results suggest that dog contacts may have a protective effect on respiratory tract infections during the first year of life," explained Kuopio University researcher Eija Bergroth, whose report appeared in the journal Pediatrics.
She said her research team's findings support a theory that growing up with a pet leads to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.
The researchers studied the weekly health diaries of 400 infants who were born at their hospital between 2002 and 2005 for their first year. Parents not only recorded information on babies’ health in these journals but also information on contact with cats and dogs.
The scientists found that contact with canines, more than cats, was tied to fewer weeks of sickness for babies. Infants in dog-owning families were also 44 percent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics.
Bergroth says one explanation may lie in the dirt and germs dogs bring inside the home, causing children's immune systems to mature faster.