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Do Pets Help Babies Breathe Easier?

A recent Finish study found that babies who lived with a dog or cat experienced less respiratory infections than those in homes without a pet and were less likely to need antibiotics. Researchers tracked data from nearly 400 infants during their first year. Participating parents kept a weekly diary, recording changes in their child’s health as well as interactions with family pets. The researchers found that 35% of the children spent the majority of their first year at home with a dog or cat. Children in a home with a pet were healthy for an average of 72 to 76% of the time, as opposed to children without who were healthy an average of 65% of the time. The effect was more pronounced in families with dogs than in families with cats. Lead author Eija Bergroth, at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland stated, "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." The researchers believe that the dirt and germs a pet brings into a home may cause a baby’s immune system to mature faster and thus offer better protection against respiratory infections. However, they were also quick to point out that not all research agrees that exposure to a pet helps children with breathing issues and that there may be another reason households with pets experienced the decline in illness.

Source: Pediatrics Vol. 130 No. 2, August 1, 2012.