Health

Babies healthier in homes with a dog or cat

Children who have contact with pet dogs or cats during the first year of life appear to be healthier, suggests a new Finnish study.

Immune system possibly boosted with pet exposure

Children who grow up with dogs or cats in the home tend to be healthier, according to a new study. (Ken Gigliotti/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

Children who have contact with pet dogs or cats during the first year of life appear to be healthier, suggests a new Finnish study.

Respiratory symptoms and infections are common during the first year of life, with children typically experiencing between three and six such episodes, according to researchers at the Kuopio University Hospital.

Their study was published Monday in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study followed 397 children born in Finland between September 2002 and May 2005  from birth to their first birthday.

In the first year of life, babies who grew up in an environment with a dog or a cat were sick less often with a cold and other respiratory infections, the study found.

The presence of a dog was found to offer a greater protective effect than that of a cat, though it’s not clear why.

Children with dogs in the home had fewer ear infections and tended to need fewer courses of antibiotics during the study period than their counterparts without the furry pets.

It’s not clear why the children were healthier, but the researchers suggest a link with hygiene theory, said Dr. Karl Kabasele, CBC News medical correspondent.

"They found that those families that had dogs that spent some time outside and some time inside had the healthiest kids, and that might be because those dogs were bringing in more dirt and germs into the home," he said.

"As the theory goes, the more a child is exposed to germs, the more their immune system matures and therefore the healthier they are as they grow up."