Pets Are Good For Children’s Health

This week medical research confirmed something you and I already knew: pets are good for kids.

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Kids and pets. They just go together. Now we know that pets can also make infants healthier.

Respiratory illness occurs less often and in milder forms in children who share their homes with one or more pets.  And that includes Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

While there has long been a belief that Chihuahuas are good for children with asthma, the belief had no more scientific backing than the average old wive’s tale.

The medical journal Pediatrics, however, has reported on a retrospective study showing that homes in which infants (birth to 1 year of age) shared space with a dog, the infants had fewer respiratory tract illnesses and the episodes they had were milder and required less medication.

The study was performed in Finland and included 397 children who were followed from pregnancy through their first birthdays.

The protective effect even extended to ear infections, which also occurred less frequently and required fewer antibiotics in those who did experience ear problems.

The authors suggest that early contact with dogs may ramp up a baby’s immune system by exposing them to antigens the dog brings in on its coat and feet. The greatest effect was observed in homes where the dog spent at least 2/3 of its day outdoors. Indoor-only dogs accounted for less protection, and cats provided even less.

A different study showed that children growing up on a farm or ranch followed a similar pattern of fewer and milder respiratory tract illnesses.

An important distinction to observe is that homes in which parents were allergic to one or more species of pet were not included in this study. Not only would having pets endanger the parents’ health, children of allergic parents are more likely to suffer from allergies, which could then put the kids at increased risk of very serious complications.

Of course, the mental, emotional and social benefits of pet ownership are also well known. While this study didn’t research those aspects, they are widely accepted. Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at UCLA’s Mattel Children’s Hospital, says, “There are families with pets that may gain some comfort from having pets, which may breed a healthier environment. Stress is associated with illness. There may be the intangible benefits of easing stress, and it may the relief of stress that is a factor.”

Have a healthy week, and hug your pet. It’s the best thanks you could show him.

See you next week, Dr. Randolph.

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