Parents who delight in seeing their babies romp around with Rover may be ahead of the game in promoting the health of their little ones.
According to a study in the medical journal Pediatrics, infants living in households with dogs were healthier and had fewer ear infections than those without a dog. The study followed 397 children who lived in rural and suburban parts of Finland from the time they were nine weeks old until they were one year old; researchers collected and analyzed data via weekly questionnaires given to infants' parents. According to Dr. Eija Bergroth, the study's lead author, “the children having dogs at home were healthier, they had less ear infections and they needed less antibiotics."
The research was evaluated in such a way that it was able to rule out other factors that could influence infection rates such as breastfeeding, low-birth weight, the number of siblings and whether moms smoked during pregnancy. Furthermore, the study found that children living in households where dogs spent 18 or more hours a day outside showed the most healthy days.
Researchers explain that exposure to dirt and bacteria builds up babies' immune systems. Bergroth said she hopes the research will stop people from thinking that “if they’re having children, they should get rid of animals."
In today’s post-SARS world of hand gels and new, improved household cleansers, the study gives us reason to re-think our antibacterial craze. It makes a strong case for the “hygiene hypothesis, which proposes that a household can be too clean and fail to provide the necessary exposure to germs required to "train" the immune system.
The benefits of exposing children to germs early in life have been shown in other youngsters as well. A 2010 study comparing day care kids to stay-at-home kids revealed that young children in daycare get sick more often than kids who stay at home, but once they go to elementary school, they're less likely to fall ill.
Today’s parents are more health conscious than ever and have created new markets to promote their kids’ health. This new research may inspire them to go back to an old trusted friend, who may just lick those childhood colds.
Check out these cute fuzzy friends and let us know what you think about their potential health benefits: