ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) — A new study finds that babies who live in the same home with a dog are healthier than those that live in a pet-free environment.

A team of Finnish researchers from Kuopio University Hospital followed 397 children through the first year of their lives and found those that live with pets had fewer ear infections and colds.

“The strongest effect was seen with dog contacts. We do not know why it was stronger than with cat contacts,” Eija Bergroth of Kuopio University Hospital told WebMD. “It might have something to do with dirt brought inside by the dogs, especially since the strongest protective effect was seen with children living in houses where dogs spent a lot of time outside.”

Karen DeMuth, assistant professor of pediatrics at Emory University, believes that children could be healthier around pets due to the “microbiome hypothesis.”

“The microbiome hypothesis is that early-life exposure to wide varieties of microbes lets them mix with the microbes in the gut and helps them keep the immune system from reacting against itself and causing autoimmune disease, or from reacting against stuff you should ignore and causing allergy,” DeMuth told WebMD.

DeMuth does warn, though, not to bring a dog into a pet-free home if your child is sick.

“The absolute wrong thing is to put a dog in the house for kids with asthma,” DeMuth told WebMD. “Yes, having a dog in the house early can protect against wheezing or respiratory infections. But this exposure has to happen very early in life.”

The study will appear in Pediatrics in August.


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