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Dogs boost babies' immunity

10th July 2012

Babies born into homes where there is at least one dog are less likely to get common health problems, according to researcher in Finland.


The research team led by Eija Bergoth of Kuopio University Hospital found that very young children who are exposed to dogs are generally healthier.

During the first year of life, young children with dogs in the household are likely to experience fewer respiratory infections than those who do not have dogs.

Writing in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers speculated that the pets may help boost immune system development.

Children who live with dogs had fewer recorded ear infections and received fewer courses of antibiotics for ear infections, according to the team's results.

Contact with dogs protects children from respiratory tract infections during the first year of life, Bergoth's team concluded.

Some previous studies exploring the effect of pets in the home on children with respiratory infections have indicated a protective effect, while others have suggested that dogs are linked to an increased risk of illness.

Bergroth and colleagues carried out a prospective cohort study of 397 newborn babies in Finland, asking parents to fill out weekly diaries to record their child's symptoms, infections and exposure to pets.

The diaries began at week 9 and continued through the first year of the child's life. Parents also completed a retrospective questionnaire at the end of the study period.

A univariate analysis showed that children who had either a dog or cat had better overall health, compared with those without pets.

However, the benefits seemed only to be linked to dogs after the results were adjusted for gender, rural living, maternal smoking, number of siblings, parental allergies and season of birth.

The team concluded that the association for overall health with cat ownership was not significant.

The optimum period of exposure to dogs per day was less than six hours, while those who were exposed to them for longer periods had more respiratory infections, ear infections and fever.

The researchers say the results could have something to do with the amount of dirt that dogs bring into the house, providing a higher degree of bacterial diversity, which plays a role in the development of the immune system.


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