Dog in the Home May Mean Healthier Infant

Children who live in a home with a dog during their first year of life are less likely to have infections and are generally healthier than children who have no pet exposure, said the authors of a Finnish study. The findings suggest that the presence of a dog in early life may accelerate immune system development.   

Both dog and cat exposures were evaluated during early infancy and both seemed to have a protective effect; however, the impact on the health of infants appeared to be greater in those with dog contact. 

"A better understanding of the interplay between pet-related exposures and the development of early respiratory tract infections may provide indirect insight regarding the factors affecting the maturation of the immune responses and its disturbances," said Eija Bergroth, MD and researchers affiliated with Kuopio University Hospital, the National Institute for Health and Welfare, and the University of Eastern Finland, all in Kuopio, Finland, and the University of Ulm in Germany. 

Using data on the weekly symptoms, infections, and pet exposures of 397 Finnish infants over the first year of life, researchers reported fever in 71.8%, otitis media in 39.5%, rhinitis in 96.7%, cough in 84.4%, and wheezing in 32.2%. Antibiotics were given to 47.6%. No dog exposure was reported in 65.2%.

In a multivariate analysis, having a dog at home was associated with greater rates of overall health and fewer instances of otitis (adjusted odds ratio [aOR]: 0.56; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.38-0.81) and antibiotic use (aOR: 0.71; 95% CI: 0.52-0.96). 

“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 concluded. 

-Michael Potts