We often see videos of babies playing with dogs and cats on the Internet. While these clips are cute and funny, some social media users commented that it’s not healthy for infants and household pets to stay in the same house. But is that really the case?
According to TIME, a study in 2012 found that pets may help lower a baby’s risk of coughs and cold during the first year of his or her life. Researchers say that babies who grow up in homes with a pet (namely a dog or a cat) are less likely to get sick than children who live without. Although it’s uncertain how your fur-kids help develop this positive health effect, researchers believe that exposure to pet dander, as well as the microbes that pets carry into the home from outdoors, could strengthen their immune system and protect them from infections.
“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 current study.
Moreover, CNN Health mentions that children who live with dogs and cats are less likely to develop allergies to those animals later in life (but only if the pet is living with the child during the first year of life). In one study, researchers performed allergy tests on a group of 18-year-olds and compared the results with information about the child’s early home life. They found that babies who grew up in homes with a cat were about half as likely to develop a cat allergy.
“This information certainly doesn’t mean that you should get a cat or dog simply to improve your child’s immunity or lower the risk of allergies, but it’s just another reason to show man’s best friend a little extra love,” writes Dr. Katy Nelson of The Scientific Parent.
However, parents should always follow the advice of their doctors as each child is different. This is because some children are more prone to illness due to immune system weaknesses or other variable factors. In addition, Van Winkle’s adds that it’s not a good idea to let dogs and cats to sleep with an infant. Jennifer Shyrock, certified dog behavior specialist and founder of Family Paw, says that a pet in bed with an infant could inadvertently suffocate the child.