Dogs enhance kids immunity

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Yes, they are a man s best friend, but dogs may have an added benefit when it comes to kids, too. Published in the journal Pediatrics, new research found that children who have contact with dogs during their first year of life are generally healthier, reporting less frequent ear infections, fewer fevers, and fewer courses of antibiotics for otitis, as compared to children without dog contact.

For the study, Finnish researchers followed nearly 400 children from pregnancy until their first birthday. They found that the incidence of respiratory illness, ear infection, and other ailments was significantly lower among children exposed to dogs in the home, and the effect was strongest for children whose dogs spent less than 6 hours a day in the house. While the exact reason for this is unclear, researchers suspect that if dogs spent more time outside, they would be more likely to bring in immunogenic items from the exterior or dirt, in other words thus exposing the child to more substances and microorganisms that would tend to stimulate their immune systems. This, so goes the theory, would stimulate earlier immunity, making them less susceptible to respiratory tract infections.

This sounds quite similar to the so-called hygiene hypothesis, which asserts that toddlers and pre-schoolers who are sent off to day-care or nursery school have a similar salutary response in terms of being healthier than home-schooled tykes, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. This theory has some solid backing in the literature; we await confirmation of what I shall call the Dog Hypothesis at least for the moment.