Ahh, dogs. They’re sweet. They’re cuddly. And now, science proves once again that dogs truly are man’s best friend.
According to a study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, children raised with dogs are healthier than those raised without – and are less prone to common infections.
Released Monday, the findings are based on the overall health of 397 children who lived in rural and suburban parts of Finland who were monitored weekly to determine if contact with dogs and cats during a child’s first year provides any protection from respiratory tract infections, colds and resulting common ear infections. “The children having dogs at home were healthier, they had less ear infections and they needed less antibiotics,” said pediatrician Eija Bergroth, the study’s lead author.
According to researchers, infants living in households with dogs were healthier and had fewer ear infections than those without a dog. Another encouraging finding: children with dogs were reported as being healthy for about 73% of the time, compared with about 65% of children with no dog at home.
Dr. Bergroth said that children who lived in households where dogs spent more time outside enjoyed the greatest health benefits, likely because dogs who spend much of their time outdoors are likely to bring more dirt and bacteria inside the home, and it is believed that exposure to dirt and bacteria strengthens babies’ immune systems.
The study followed children born at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland. Parents completed weekly questionnaires, documenting ailments such as fevers, coughs, runny noses, ear infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections and rashes. Families were also asked if they had a dog or a cat and if so, how much time the animals spent outside.
The most convincing evidence might be how scientists documented a child’s physical reaction to stress. Researchers divided the 100 kids (ranging in age from 7 to 12 years old) into three groups. Each group had to perform a public speaking test and mental arithmetic problems. Children in one group could have a dog with them during the activities. Another group could only have a parent. The last group had no one there to support them.
Before the test, each child provided saliva samples to measure cortisol levels. The body releases cortisol into our systems when we are under stress. Measuring cortisol levels before and after a stressful situation can show researchers how well we handle challenging situations.
Children who could sit near a dog to hold or pet during their test had lower cortisol levels compared to those who didn’t, according to the study results. The children also reported feeling less stressed with the dogs compared to being with a parent or having no one with them.
This latest study supports a variety of other findings about dogs stress-reducing abilities. Multiple studies show that simply owning a dog can help ease depression and anxiety. In fact, doctors now order therapy dogs for some patients as a form of treatment for their disorders.
For dog-lovers everywhere, it’s nice to see scientific evidence backing up what we already know to be true: Dogs rule.