By Winni Jeong
Recently, several news articles reported on how cats and/or dogs could help strengthen a baby’s immune system. According to a study from Finland with 397 children, children living with dogs had a 31 percent less chance of developing respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent fewer ear infections, and 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions. Additionally, researchers discovered that contact with cats could also reduce the infection possibilities. However, the effect was more drastic with dogs.
Study researcher and pediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, Dr. Eija Bergroth, speculated that “maybe the dogs somehow can bring dirt or soil inside the house, and then the immune system is strengthened, or maybe it’s something about the animals themselves.” Though the link between dogs and fewer infections is not a cause-and-effect relationship, this result definitely assures parents with babies that there is no reason to be afraid of animal contact.
Normally, many parents try and provide their babies with the cleanest and safest possible environment and go to great lengths to protect them from germs. One of these protections is by avoiding animal contact. However, as this Finland study shows, animal contact and exposure to germs are, to some degree, necessary for the child in order to build up the immune system.
Our immune system is very clever and complex. Not only does it help our bodies fight against harmful germs and protect the body against infections, it also builds up as we grow up. As the body is exposed to different types of bacteria or germs, our immune system formulates antibodies to fight off those germs in the future. However, these antibodies for specific germs are only generated after contact with those specific germs. Hence, some degree of exposure to these germs is necessary for our body to activate protection measures to those germs further down the line.
Yes, because of those germs, babies may snuffle slightly or cough a little. But, these symptoms should recover fairly quickly as the babies’ immune system further develops accordingly. Make sure to remain vigilant for signs of allergic reactions, and if your baby gets seriously ill, you should seek medical advice.
Overall, the research shows that dogs and cats boost babies’ immune systems. Though how this protection works is still unclear, researchers speculate that the dirt brought into the home may be the link. To confirm, further studies will be done. Even so, Dr. Bergroth hopes that this research will prevent people from thinking that if “they’re having children, they should get rid of animals.”