Having Pets Can Improve Your Child’s Immune System

Pets are cute, cuddly and mostly adorable. However, they’ve been given a bad rep in the past for being the carriers of diseases and infections. One of the most common pets are dogs, and they’ve often been seen as unclean or unhygienic to have around the house.

Dogs are very popular as pets, simply because of their loyal nature, and their ability to guard the home and their masters. A recent study gives solid evidence that dogs aren’t just great companions; they’re beneficial for health too. In particular, they help boost the immune systems of toddlers and protect them from allergies and obesity as they grow older.

A team from the University of Alberta recently tested babies aged 3-4 months who were living in families with pets. 70% of the participating families had dogs, while the rest of the families had other furry pets including cats. Some of these families had both dogs and cats, while other had smaller furry animals around.

Babies who participated in the study had mothers who signed up for the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study. The babies’ fecal matter was collected after 3 to 4 months after birth and analyzed for the presence of microorganisms that were beneficial for their health. A total of 746 babies were sampled in the study, and their mothers were asked to report whether or not the family owned a furry pet and whether their babies were exposed to the pets or not.

Previous studies have found that early exposure to pets has beneficial effects on infants and children. Pets have been found to reduce their chances of developing asthma, and decrease the frequencies of colds and sniffles. This time, babies exposed to pets were found to have a significantly higher count of gut bacteria that have been proven to reduce allergic reactions and prevent obesity.

According to Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, who heads the research team from the University of Alberta, the period in which a young child’s gut can be influenced is rather narrow, and exposure to pets during this time can effectively change it. This means that the exposure to pets has to happen within the first few months of life in order for the gut bacteria to be shaped and changed.

When young babies were subjected to this analysis, the two significant bacteria were detected, namely Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been proven to reduce childhood allergies and obesity respectively. The scientists were able to establish that children who lived in families that kept pets had a significantly higher number of these bacteria, as compared to children with little or no exposure to pets.

Researchers have not yet established how the babies came to have the bacteria in their guts, but they believe it could either be due to direct contact with the fur and saliva of the creatures or through the hands of an adult caregiver. The team did, however, find that babies could be exposed to the pet bacteria even while their mothers were still pregnant.

The study also found that having Caesarean births, the administration of antibiotics to the mother and absence of breastfeeding did not reduce the chances of bacteria transfer to the baby. These three aforementioned scenarios have been proven in the past to reduce infant immunity.
Apart from just reducing allergies and obesity, the pet bacteria has also been shown to protect babies from catching pneumonia during the birthing process, especially when the mother’s birthing canal is infected with bacteria known as vaginal GBS.

These findings offer a different take on the practice of keeping pets in the home, especially dogs. There is now scientific evidence to show that having a pet is actually beneficial to babies, rather than detrimental to them. It also proves that parents shouldn’t go overboard in protecting their children from elements of nature, such as dirt and animals, as this will actually work to the child’s benefit in the long term.

Gentle reminder: The information on this article is not meant to replace a qualified healthcare professional and should not be considered as professional advice. Please seek appropriate medical help when necessary.

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