The study, published online July 9 in Pediatrics, tracked 397 kids in Finland from before they were born until they turned 1-year-old. Weekly questionnaires were given to parents that asked about their child's health and whether they owned a pet.
The researchers determined that 245 of the babies had a dog in the home (62 percent) and 136 babies (34 percent) had cat contact. By study's end, 65 percent of children lived in homes without a dog and almost 76 percent lived in a cat-free home, so not everyone with a pet had it throughout the entire study.
While respiratory infections and symptoms such as colds and wheezing are common in infants, an analysis revealed that babies who had early contact with dogs or cats were significantly healthier during the study and were 30 percent less likely to experience coughs, ear infections and symptoms such as stuffiness, runny nose, sneezing and congestion (rhinitis).
Babies born in homes with dogs were also 44 percent less likely to develop another common ailment in kids: ear infections. Kids with dogs were also 29 percent less likely to have used antibiotics in the past year than children without pets. More contact with the dog was associated with fewer health problems in general, which led the researchers to believe that early contact with an animal may mature the immune system in infancy, helping toddlers better ward off disease.