A recent study has concluded that having pets in the house during a baby’s first year of life can help improve the infant’s immune system and decrease the number of respiratory infections and colds. The study, conducted in Finland, followed 397 babies through their first year of life.
For 44 weeks the new moms recorded how often their babies had fevers, ear infections, rhinitis, coughs, wheezing, and if they needed antibiotics. The reports of those with a cat or a dog in the house were then compared to those without. Analysis found that children from homes with cats were six percent more likely to be healthy than those in cat-free families. (Children growing up in households with dogs fared even better; babies who lived with a dog were 31 percent more likely to be healthy in their first year than babies without a dog.)
“We think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them,” says Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland who led the study.
The researchers further speculate that exposure to pets in infanthood may guard against development of allergies and asthma later in life. This study is one of the first to find cats have protective factors in infant health.