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Pet ownership linked to improved respiratory health in infants, researchers say

Friday, February 01, 2013 by: Kelsey Radwick
Tags: pets, asthma, allergies

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(NaturalNews) Many parents worry about exposing their children to pets, fearing that it may make their children sick and vulnerable to infection. However, recent research indicates that pet ownership can be extremely beneficial to children's health.

A study published in August of last year found that children exposed to pets early in life experience enhanced immune function and are less likely to experience respiratory and ear infections compared to children who do not live in a pet-owning household. Researchers in Finland followed 397 sets of parents and their children from pregnancy to age one, examining the frequency of their babies' respiratory symptoms and infections, along with frequency of dog and cat contact during the first year of life.

They found that those with dogs at home had 31 percent fewer respiratory tract infections and 44 percent fewer ear infections than children in non dog-owning homes. The babies also needed fewer courses of antibiotics. Furthermore, the study found that one-year-olds with no dog or cat at home we classified as "healthy" 64 percent of the time, whereas one-year-olds with a dog or cat at home were classified as "healthy" 81 percent of the time.

The study did indicate that cat ownership also has an overall protective effect, although the relationship appeared weaker than with dog ownership. Dr. Mary Tobin, the director of the allergy division at Rush University Medical Center, said that one reason dogs might provide greater protection than cats is because babies spend more time cuddling or pulling on dogs' fur or letting the dog lick them. Cats, on the other hand, are not as socialized.

Also, children living in homes in which the dogs went in and out of the house more often seemed to have the lowest risk of infection. Dr. Elija Bergroth, a pediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital in Kuopio Finland, and one of the study's authors speculates that the more the dog is outside, the more dirt and microbes it might bring inside and expose to the baby. The microbes in the dirt might somehow stimulate the child's immune system and cause later immunologic responses to respiratory viruses and bacteria to be more composed. Or, it could have something to do specifically with the dog, such as its dander. Researchers acknowledge that more research is required to understand this correlation.

This supports British researcher David B. Strachan's "hygiene hypothesis," which theorizes that declining family size and modern sanitation has led to an increase in allergies. Exposing the immune system at an early age to a variety of proteins and germs seems to lead to a tolerance of the environment versus an allergenic reaction to it.

Sources for this article include:

http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com
http://articles.chicagotribune.com
http://www.huffingtonpost.com
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1289326/
http://www.petside.com/article/health-benefits-dog-ownership

About the author:
My name is Kelsey Radwick, and I am a native of the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington. I am just another health nut who loves her hearty salads, grass-fed meats, and healthy homemade ice creams. I recently assisted with the compilation of the popular Ebook "Paleo Ice Cream: 31 Healthy Recipes For The Primal Sweet Tooth," which can be found at www.paleoicecreamrecipes.com.

To learn more about me and my interests beyond health and wellness, please visit my website at www.kelseyradwick.com.
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