A recent study conducted by Dr. Eija Bergroth found having pets in the house during a baby’s first year of life can help bolster the infant’s immune system and decrease the number of respiratory infections and colds experienced. 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 dog in the house were then compared to the reports of those without. Analysis found babies from households with dogs were healthy for 72 – 76 percent of the first year, whereas babies who had no contact with dogs were healthy for only 65 percent of the year; having a dog made the infant’s up to 11 percent healthier. Improved health was also experienced by babies who kept company with cats, but with a lesser margin of improvement.
The results are considered statistically significant. Bergroth and her colleagues speculate that having dogs and cats around exposes newborns to more pathogens and helps them build a more mature immune system. This study is one of the first to find cats and dogs have protective factors in infant health.—LE