To Raise Healthy Children, Get a Pet as Early as Possible

By Ken Tudor, DVM on Sep. 22, 2015

OpEd: We typically acquire pets so we know they will have a good, happy home. What doctors, teachers, and mental health practitioners are finding is that owning pets makes homes healthier, especially for children. Our attraction to animals aids our own wellbeing.

Most of you have read about how pets lower blood pressure, decrease stress, and promote social interactions in people. Some of you may remember my post “Pets Promote Stronger Human-to-Human Bonds” that detailed a study of how pets brought neighbors together in Australia and the U.S. But the effect pets may have on children may be even more remarkable.

More and more recent research is showing that children raised with pets are healthier, have improved learning skills, and show more emotional maturity. Here, we explore those findings.

Pets and Children’s Health

Since writing about the study that found Amish children raised with animals were at a significantly decreased risk of asthma, newer research is shedding more light on the relationship of pets and allergy related diseases.

Dr. James Gern, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analyzed blood from babies immediately after birth and then one year later. He tested the blood for changes in immunity indicating allergic responses. His results, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, found that children who lived in a home with a dog were less likely to show signs of allergies.

In an interview with WebMD, Dr. Gern said that his study—as well as a growing number of studies—suggests that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals—whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals—will have less risk of allergies and asthma.” He went on to say further that “Dogs are dirty animals and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.”

Findings published in a Pediatrics journal found that children who live in a home with pets during their first year of life:

  • were 31% less likely to have respiratory tract infections than kids not raised with a dog
  • were 44% less likely to have ear infections
  • were 29% less likely to need antibiotics than kids not raised with a dog

He also found that kids who grew up with dogs that spent fewer than six hours per day inside had fewer infections than kids who grew up with indoor-only dogs.

The implication of this last finding is that babies exposed to pets that are allowed to bring dirt and bacteria from the outside world build stronger immunity.

Other studies had similar findings:

  • A study of 11,000 Australians, Chinese, and Germans found that pet owners had 20% fewer annual visits to the doctor.
  • A study of 256 children ages 5-11 in three schools in England and Scotland found that those who lived in homes with pets had fewer sick days.
  • A Swedish study found that children between the ages of 7-13 had a lower prevalence of allergic rhinitis and asthma if they had exposure to pets during their first year of life.

All of these studies indicate, as one reporter put it, “Families across the world have harnessed one of the most powerful medicines of all—unconditional love from a furry, four-legged healthcare worker who is on-call 24 hours a day and doesn’t require a paycheck.”

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Thinkstock


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Ken Tudor, DVM


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