Many people cherish their childhood memory of the family dog giving them a big lick on the face. Although some children run off shouting “Ugh, dog germs!” those “germs” have actually helped people develop stronger immune systems.
According to a recent study at Kuopio University Hospital, babies who grow up with a pet are less likely to get coughs and colds. Lead author of the study, Dr. Eija Bergroth, particularly said, “we think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them.” In other words, the pets’ dander and microbes brought in from the outdoors prime babies’ newly-forming immune systems. This teaches them to fend off allergies, bacteria and viruses.
In order to conduct this study, Finnish researchers followed the health of 397 children during their first year of life. Parents recorded the state of their child’s health on a weekly basis. They documented any runny noses, coughing, or ear infections. They also noted if the child took any antibiotics. The results of the study found that children with pets in the home were 44% less likely to contract an ear infection. They were also 29% less likely to be prescribed antibiotics.
The type of pet in the home did make a difference in how likely babies were to become ill during their first year. Dogs lowered the risk of illness by 31%. Cats, on the other hand, only lowered the risk by 6%. The greatest benefit was from outdoor pets (those not only restricted to the indoors).
Previous studies have revealed a link between pets in the home and a lower risk of allergies for babies. Some have even proven that exposure to household dust from a home with a dog prevents a common respiratory virus. Researchers have linked this virus to the development of childhood asthma.
Overall, early exposure to pets seems to be the key in developing greater resistance to microbes, as it is the time that a child’s immune system is learning to differentiate friendly from unfriendly microbes. By getting a wide array of these in small amounts, babies’ immune systems become well-trained early on.