Research shows that having a dog at home can boost a child’s immune system.
Aside from teaching children about friendship and compassion, a Finnish study suggests that babies who grow up with pets, especially dogs, are less likely to develop colds, asthma and other respiratory infections by the time they’re toddlers.
Kristen Shannon of West Hartford said her 2-year-old son Fergus shares a special bond with their three dogs, Indy, Sassy and Zoe.
"He goes to the dogs to pet them and is very gentle with them and loving and they do the same to him and it's really sweet,” Shannon said.
Dr. Andrew Dennis of the Bloomfield Animal Hospital said she’s seen the positive effects animals have on human immune systems.
"If they're raised with them at an extremely young age, there's a certain percentage that they're less likely to get those allergic type reactions [like] wheezing [and] coughing,” Dennis said.
Researchers said they tracked nearly 400 children over a three year period.
They found that those who grew up in homes with pets were 44 percent less likely to develop an ear infection and 29 percent were less likely to receive antibiotics. That’s compared to pet-free babies.
Babies with dogs fared much better than those with cats, the study said.
It said those with dogs were 31 percent more likely to be healthy in their first year. The number is just 6 percent with cats.
"Dogs tend to go outside and they bring benign viruses and bacteria that are in very small amounts so they're more in contact with these germs, so to speak,” Dennis said.
With three dogs in her home, Shannon said she believes it’s been good for her toddler’s immune system.
"He has been a really healthy little guy,” Shannon said. “No allergies at all and he's been very close with the dogs since he's been an infant.”
However, vets warn parents not to run out and get a dog right away if they don’t have a newborn.
They said it’s early exposure that appears to be the most beneficial.
"Once an infant is 6 or 7 months old, they're not seeing that same benefit,” Dennis said. “They're seeing much more benefit if the dog or cat is already in the home when the baby comes home."
The Shannons said the health benefit is just one more reason dogs are called “man’s best friend.”
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