A new study published online Monday from the journal Pediatrics found that children who had pets as part of their environment during the first year of their lives were on average healthier than children who did not have exposure to pets. The study specifically looked at the impact that the presence of cats and dogs had on the children, and found that when a pet was present during the child's first year, the child on average suffered fewer ear infections and colds, among other health benefits.
How was the study conducted?
According to the article in Pediatrics, the study was conducted in Finland. It involved some 397 children, who were followed from pregnancy up until they passed their first year. All the children were born in the three-year period between 2002 and 2005. Households were asked to keep weekly diaries regarding the presence of dogs and cats, and then at the end of the child's first year, filled out an additional questionnaire.
What did the study find, specifically?
A link was found between the number of ear infections, colds, and other respiratory ailments and the amount of time that a child spent exposed to animals. In addition, the number of times a child required a course of antibiotics for their ailments was also studied against exposure to animals.
In general, researchers found that exposure to a pet decreased the chances that a child would develop respiratory ailments or other ailments needing antibiotic treatment. This correlation was far stronger in dogs, where exposure appeared to coincide with as much as a 31 percent reduction in respiratory issues, including infections, as well as a 44 percent reduction in the number of ear infections and a 29 percent smaller risk that a child would need antibiotic treatment, as reported by MyHealthNewsDaily. In cats, that link between exposure and health was still present, but the benefits appeared to be somewhat reduced in comparison to exposure to dogs.
Why do the health benefits appear to be greater with exposure to dogs?
Researchers speculated that the nature of the animal may have something to do with it. Dogs are more likely to be outside, which also means that they can pick up more dirt. Dr. Eija Bergoth, one of the study's authors, told WebMD that it is likely that the greater exposure to dirt and other outside elements facilitated by dog ownership is probably the reason that dogs bring more measurable health benefits to a child's respiratory system than cats, as cats are more likely to stay indoors. Bergoth also said that differences in dander could be a culprit, but more study is needed to determine the cause of the disparity.
What are the challenges to the study?
The study did not separate the children into different categories per their living environment. Researchers did not differentiate between children who lived in a rural versus an urban environment. Critics told CNN that oversight could have had an affect on the results, as the microbes and other agents that exist in the city differ from those in a rural environment.
Vanessa Evans is a musician and freelance writer based in Michigan, with a lifelong interest in health and nutrition issues.