Raising Babies With Companion Dogs May Help Their Respiratory Health
There is a large body of literature evaluating the relationship between early childhood exposure to animals and the risk of asthma, allergies, and respiratory illness. This study, conducted in Finland, focuses specifically on the effect of dog and cat contacts on respiratory tract infections during a child’s first year of life. The authors found a benefit to increased contact with dogs and cats.
Data on almost 400 children were included in the analysis, and the data collection method was particularly strong. The researchers used a prospective study approach—i.e., they identified the participants and then tracked their data going forward, in this case through a weekly diary completed by parents. This approach is superior in most cases to retrospective studies, which rely on personal recall. Researchers also asked the families to fill out questionnaires about additional factors including family size, birth weight, smoking, and family history of respiratory illness.
The results of the study suggest that dog contact provides the most protection for children from respiratory tract infections during the first year of life. Cat contact seemed to have an overall protective effect, although it was weaker than dog contact. Children living in houses where dogs spent only part of the day inside (6 hours or less) had the lowest infection risk. The researchers speculate that those dogs bring more dirt into the house than inside-only dogs, exposing children to a great number and variety of bacteria and thus leading to strengthened immune systems.
Studying the effect of animal companions on human health encompasses many types of animals, illnesses, ages, and methodologies. This focused and well-executed study offers solid information on one question important to many parents—the effect of dogs and cats on infants’ risk of respiratory infections.