Millions of Americans know the joy of owning a pet, but man's best friend may be doing more for families than previously thought. A new study from the medical journal "Pediatrics" found children who live with dogs or cats during their first year don't get sick as often as kids without pets.
FOX 9 News spoke with Dr. Julia Joseph-DiCaprio about the benefits of having a four-legged friend.
This is new evidence for the counterintuitive notion that an overly clean environment may not be ideal for babies. Rather, sharing a home with a pet may be an early form of cross-training for the body's defense systems.
The study showed that kids with pets were less likely to get colds, respiratory infections and ear infections. The effect was stronger for dogs than for cats:
- Babies who lived with dogs were 31% more likely to be in good health than their counterparts who didn't
- Babies with cats had a 6% advantage over those without feline family members.
"What I always tell them is this: It's actually very helpful to have a cat or dog around because we tend to see less allergies," Dr. Danelle Fisher, vice chair of pediatrics at St. John's Health Center said. "Now, I can tell them we've even seen less chance of upper respiratory infection in the first year of life."
The study also underscores the importance of timing when it comes to pet exposure: so far, all the evidence suggests that early exposure to pets may be most helpful in lowering children's risk of allergies and asthma.