When I was a kid, I had the honor of standing at the end of year awards ceremony, as my name was read from a short list of kids who had perfect attendance for the school year. As a grown-up, I like to tease my mom that I had to be on my deathbed for her to agree to let me stay home from school (which isn’t actually too far from the truth), but I am learning that there is another factor that played into my seemingly perfect health: living with a dog.
Studies have shown that kids who live in homes with pets not only have fewer colds and allergies, but also may have lower stress levels and tendencies toward anxiety. So, how exactly does a hairy, four-legged animal make a kid healthier? I dug deep to uncover some research that proves man’s best friend provides more than just a playmate and a soft, furry pillow for your head.
According to the journal, Pediatrics (mentioned in this article), babies who grow up in homes with a dog or cat are less likely to get sick than kids who grow up in pet-free homes. Their theory is that early exposure to pet-related bacteria actually strengthens the immune system. “Dirt is good,” says lead researcher Ganesa Wegienska, Ph.D.
Dr. Wegienska goes on say, “Your immune system, if it’s busy with exposures early on, stays away from the allergic immune profile,” and her studies (which appear in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy) show that there is definitely a link between pets and lower risk of allergies among babies. Wegienka and her colleagues followed 566 children and their parents, collecting information about the kids’ exposure to pets and their history of allergies. When the kids turned 18, they took blood samples and their findings proved that having an indoor pet can have a serious impact on kids’ susceptibility toward allergens. Teenagers who lived with a cat during their first year of life had a 48 percent lower risk of cat allergy. Teen boys who lived with a dog had a 50 percent lower risk of allergy than their peers.
Research has shown that owning a pet not only keeps you more active, but the very act of petting a dog or cat can lower your blood pressure and cut down on stress hormones. A recent study from the University of Florida found that these emotional benefits extend beyond the adults in your home to children who have connections to their pets. The study found that children who were able to call for a pet dog in a stressful situation had lower cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) than those without the same opportunity. A dog offers unconditional love, which can provide comfort and support to a child figuring out his place in the the world.
Having a baby? Don’t rush to find a new home for your dog. The dirt and hair your dog brings into your home combined with the love and affection he offers may just make your baby healthier, both physically and mentally!