Children who grow up with dogs are healthier throughout their life, a study in Finland has found.
Kuopio University Hospital researchers have found that children who are exposed to dogs in the first year of their life had fewer infections.
Researchers studied children in their first year and found those with a canine at home developed 31 percent fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent fewer ear infections and required 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions, MyHealthNewsDaily reported.
"We speculated that maybe the dogs somehow can bring dirt or soil inside the house, and then the immune system is strengthened, or maybe it's something about the animals themselves," lead researcher Dr Eija Bergroth said.
Of the 397 children involved in the study, 35 percent lived in a home with a dog, while 24 percent lived in homes with cats. Researchers also took into account children's contact with pets outside of their home.
The study also found that contact with cats was linked to fewer infections in children, although the reduced risk of infection was not as prevalent as for children living with dogs. Infants living with cats were 2 percent less likely to need antibiotics than infants living without pets.
The link between pets and fewer infections in children was strong even when researchers took in account the factors that affect children's infection rates, such as breastfeeding and the number of siblings they have.
Researcher said that they couldn't account for all factors, and said that they found a correlation, not a cause-and-effect relationship.
"According to our results, there's no reason to be afraid of animal contact, or to avoid them," Dr Bergroth said.
Dr Bergroth said that although parents want to create a hygienic environment for their new born children, this may not be the best option as it doesn't challenge their immune system.
Dr Bergroth noted that the study results may not translate to urban children as the children studied lived in rural or suburban areas. She also noted that urban pets may not track in the same dirt.
The research supported the "hygiene hypothesis", an accepted theory that suggested that children exposed to extremely clean environments are more likely to develop allergies and asthma.
Dr Bergroth said she hoped the research will stop people from thinking that if "they're having children, they should get rid of animals".
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