Researchers in Finland and Germany studied the first year of life.
First, the details.
397 children were followed from pregnancy onward.
The frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections were based on daily diary entries and a questionnaire at the age of 1 year.
And, the results.
Children having dogs at home vs children without such contacts
Fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections than children with no dog contacts
Less frequent otitis (inflammation or infection of the ear)
Tendency to need fewer courses of antibiotics
Both the weekly and yearly amount of contact with dogs and cats were associated with decreased respiratory infectious disease morbidity.
The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.”
In this study, dog contact was more protective than cat contact, but the results leave that question unresolved.
Most people believe that exposure to pet dander and microbes that pets carry might prime developing immune systems to better respond to common allergens. More research is needed to know for sure and provide informed recommendations for parents.
John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.