Time to give good ol' Rover another treat! According to new research from Finland, infants with a family dog at home are healthier and have fewer ear infections than pet-free babies.
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study focused on respiratory tract infections—like colds and ensuing ear infections—in a group of 400 babies over the course of their first year. The results are surprising. Having a family dog reduced a baby's chance for respiratory infection symptoms by approximately 30 percent and dropped their risk for ear infections by about half. Overall, infants who lived with dogs in the home were healthy 73 percent of the time during their first year; for babies without dogs, the figure was 65 percent. Infants with a family dog were also much less likely to receive a prescription for antibiotics.
Sounds great—but do new babies and dogs really mix?
Some are not so sure. "We decided to have our dog stay with my sister for the first few weeks after our daughter was born," says Michelle Manion, a mom from Syracuse, New York, explaining that her sister could take him for walks and give him all the attention he needed. "We love our dog, but it was a relief not to worry about him when we first came home." And she's not sure the study would have swayed her decision.
Others get rid of the family dog before Baby arrives because of safety concerns—especially if the dog has behavioral issues already.
But plenty of parents find that babies and dogs can live in harmony. Amy Kemp, from Keene, New Hampshire, says she's certain her two dogs are helping to keep her son as healthy as ... a horse! "I grew up in a super-sterile house that didn't even have plants, let alone a dog," she says. "I had colds, ear infections, allergies … you name it, all the time. My 2-year-old has not had even one ear infection." She attributes her toddler's health to "our two mangy mutts!"
Kemp—and the researchers—may be on to something. Interestingly, researchers found that the healthiest children in the study were those with dogs who spent at least 18 hours a day romping outdoors. It could be that exposure to the germs and bacteria (read: dirt!) these pups bring home trigger the bodies' defenses and help to strengthen babies' developing immune systems. Other studies show that having a dog—or a cat—as a pet may reduce children's risk for allergies, for similar reasons.
Speaking of cats, while our feline friends may help to somewhat reduce colds and ear infections, the link is so weak that this study really does go to the dogs, say researchers. Sorry, cat lovers!