Want to protect your unborn child from excessive sneezing, coughing and weight gain? Get a pet, a new study says.
According to First Coast News, research conducted at Canada’s University of Alberta found that babies born into families with dogs or cats have a lower risk of developing allergies and becoming obese.
Led by epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj, the researchers examined the health of over 700 Canadian children before and after their birth. The babies who were exposed to pets while they were either in the womb or up to three months old were discovered to possess an increased amount of two types of bacteria: rominococcus and oscillospira. Those who were not exposed to pets in the womb or in the first months after their birth possessed about half as much of the two types of bacteria as their counterparts.
A high amount of rominococcus typically indicates a lean figure or lower body mass index.
The team believes early exposure to the two types of bacteria allows the unborn babies and newborns to develop a resistance to certain conditions. Babies with high amounts of the two types of bacteria have previously been proven to have a lower risk of group B strep, which can cause blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis in newborns. It’s unclear if the babies in the study were less likely to develop group B strep.
The results support those of a similar study conducted in Finland from 2002 to 2005. In that study, researchers monitored the health of 397 Finnish children born during that time period until they were a year old. Their parents reported symptoms on a weekly basis such as coughing, sneezing, and ear infections. The babies who were exposed to either a cat or a dog in the first months of their lives were 30% less likely to experience coughing, ear infections, congestion, and sneezing. In households with dogs, the babies were 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to receive antibiotics than babies who didn’t grow up with pets.
Babies who were exposed to dogs in their first year were significantly healthier than those exposed to cats.
When compared to babies who did not live with dogs, babies who lived with a dog were 31% more likely to experience good health in their first year. Babies who lived with a cat in their first year, on the other hand, were just 6% more likely to experience good health than those who did not live with cats. The lack of antibiotics will likely help the study subjects ward off a multitude of diseases as they get older, since an overabundance of antibiotics can lead to harmful bacteria becoming drug resistant and therefore more difficult to eliminate.
Perhaps the most interesting finding, however, was that the study’s healthiest babies grew up in households with dogs who spent less time inside the home than those who were inside almost 24 hours a day. Dogs from the former group were apparently walked more frequently and given more time to play outside. The researchers hypothesized that these dogs brought in more dirt and bacteria from outdoors, which helped the babies develop strong immune systems early on.
This adds to the multitude of evidence that establishes the direct relationship between the health of pets and their owners. Healthy dog owners have previously proven to pass their health onto their pets, and the Finnish study suggests that dogs that get plenty of exercise pass their health onto newborn children. As if there weren’t enough human health benefits of consistently walking a dog, it seems the most benefits are reserved for owners who are also new parents. Future studies might want to explore the theory that expecting parents who take the best care of their dogs, which revolves around a balanced diet and exercise routine, eventually go on to have children with a lower risk of obesity.