Dander particles, fuzzy fur, hairballs accumulating in household corners…Everything about owning a pet suggests breathing problems. In fact, it's quite the opposite. A new study out of Finland discovered another one of the benefits of owning a dog. Researchers found that babies living in a home with a dog were generally healthier, suffered fewer respiratory and inner ear infections, and required fewer antibiotics in their first year of life. Cats also provided some protection, but the effects were much stronger in dogs.
So what is it about our four-legged friends that seems to make young children healthier? Authors of the latest study believe it's a function of a strengthened immune system. Dogs spend time outside and track in different types of germs, exposures that help babies build a strong immune system early in life.
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Of course, if your baby is allergic to dogs, it's best to exercise caution, and this study didn't look at children specifically allergic to animals.
The latest research builds on previous work suggesting that exposure to different pathogens early in life will lead to healthier children and adults down the road. In May 2012, European researchers found that children who grew up on farms were less likely to develop allergies and asthma, likely the result of early life exposures to many types of substances and germs.
If you're considering getting a pet dog, check your finances first to be sure it's in the budget. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates it costs between $1,310 and $1,840 annually to care for a dog. If it is, then consider adopting from a local animal shelter or rescue group.
To avoid interfering with healthy immune system development, don't overuse alcohol-based hand sanitizers and nix the use of antibacterial soaps and products containing triclosan, a chemical linked to thyroid disease. Proper hand washing with regular soap and water does the trick!