A pediatric study out of Finland has proved the connection between healthy children and family pets. It seems from this research, that youngsters accustomed to dogs in early childhood develop stronger immune systems and have fewer respiratory infections than children that are not. The correlation is strong enough to suggest causality.
From 0 to 12-month children who had dogs in the home had ear infection less frequently and generally had fewer needs for antibiotic treatment of otitis. The studyâ€™s lead author says, “Our results suggest that dog contacts protect children from respiratory tract infections during the first year of life.” .
This study is the latest in a long line of studies in this area of pediatrics. Overall results have been very mixed with some showing reduced respiratory infections and others indicating increased risks of infection from having dogs in the home. The Finnish study was of almost 400 prospective newborns. The parents of the children kept a diary after nine weeks and until 12 months, of all the infant’s symptoms, actually diagnosed infections and their contacts with pets. There was also a medical history questionnaire to gather gene pool data on the sample population.
In total the children were diarized for over 17,100 weeks. In that time, 7 in 10 of them had fevers, almost 4 in 10 and nearly all of them had rhinitis. More than 8 in 10 had a cough and more than 3 in 10 had been wheezing. Nearly half of the cohorts were prescribed a course of antibiotics. From the questionnaire, 65% of parents reported NO dog in the home and 75% reported NO cat exposure. Those children from pet homes experienced fewer weeks of respiratory conditions than those with no pet exposure.
Interestingly this figure unadjusted held for both cats and dogs. However, once adjusted for factors such as gender, urban or rural homes, mother smoking, siblings, parental allergies and the time of year for birth, only of 6 out of 10 homes remained healthier. Cat exposure overall proved not to be statistically significant.
From the research, it would also appear that limited exposure to dogs, under six hours per day is better than longer periods. The researchers studied the correlation between fewer respiratory problems and exposure to dogs in three categories. Homes where the dog is inside for less than six hours per day, where the dog is inside for between 6 and 16 hours and more than 16 hours. T
he best outcomes were for the lower levels of dog exposure. The best explanation that the researchers came up with to explain this outcome was that dogs that spend more time outside probably track in more dirt and extraneous bacteria. This is likely to correlate with a wider range of bacterial exposure for everyone in the home. The wider the diversity of bacterial exposure the bigger the impact it will have on the childâ€™s immune system maturation and susceptibility to infection.