Why a dog is a child's best friend: They bring immune-boosting dirt and allergens into the home
Babies in dog-owning families were 44 per cent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 percent less
likely to need antibiotics

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UPDATED:

12:43 GMT, 9 July 2012

Dogs are not just man's best friend – they are also extremely beneficial to children as well.

Researchers found the family pets protect infants against breathing problems and infections.

A team from Kuopio University Hospital in Finland studied 397 infants who were born at their hospital between September 2002 and May 2005 for their first year.

Dogs are thought to prime children's immune system to attack bacteria and viruses

Dogs are thought to prime children's immune system to attack bacteria and viruses

They found that babies who lived with a dog or – to a lesser extent – a cat spent fewer weeks with ear infections, coughs or running noses. They were also less likely to need antibiotics than infants in pet-free homes.

Study author Dr Eija Bergroth said dogs brought dirt and germs into the home, which could cause a child's immune system to mature faster. This would improve their defenses against viruses and bacteria.

As part of the study parents filled out weekly diaries starting when the child was nine weeks old, recording information on babies' health as well as their contact with cats and dogs. They recorded if they had fever, ear infections, coughs or stuffy noses. They also put down if they needed antibiotics.

Based on those diaries and a year-end questionnaire, the researchers determined that around a third of the children spent the majority of their first year with a pet dog and 24 per cent in a home with a cat.

Infants with no dog contact at home were
healthy for 65 per cent of the time compared to 72 and 76 per cent who did have a pet.

The researchers found that contact with dogs, more than cats, was tied to fewer weeks of sickness for babies.

Babies in dog-owning families were also 44 per cent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 per cent less likely to need antibiotics.

The researchers said infants who spent more than zero but less than six hours per day at home with a dog were the least likely to get sick.

'A possible explanation for this interesting finding might be that the amount of dirt brought inside the home by dogs could be higher in these families because (the dog) spent more time outdoors,' the researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers said they couldn't rule out the possibility that people who own dogs are less likely to get sick for another reason, and not due to protection offered by pets.