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Pets Help Children’s Immune Systems

Companion animals have been kept by humans for centuries. Many civilizations heralded their animal counter parts, who brought joy and health to their lives, with elaborate burials and even statuses. Dogs have been renowned as man's best friend since the dawn of time and there is a saying about cats - that one is never enough (cat lady, anyone?). But did you know that our pets also play a real role on ours and our children's health?

A new study is out, conducted in Finland, showing that infants living in the home with either a dog, a cat, or both have higher immunities than children living in homes without animals. It is believed that the exposure to outside elements, as well as animal dander, allow an infant's immune system to better develop and to be more adept at fighting infections. It can also lessen instances of gastroenteritis (the stomach bug).

This new study, on the heels of one that recently came out stating a dog's dander is good for protecting children from childhood asthma and upper-respiratory infections, also states that dogs and cats that travel in and out of the home bring in dirt and other matter, which most parents would generally protect their child from. The exposure to these materials, germs and all, are actually helping to improve children's immune systems. Exposing them in small amounts is basically like training their systems against potentially harmful germs.

Most studies that have been done as of late are based on allergens. They either show that having animals creates allergies or helps allergies. This particular study shows an actual correlation between amounts of times children with pets became ill and children without pets became ill. The study illustrates that fewer cases of gastroenteritis were found in the reviewed children, as well as upper-respiratory infections, as long as the child was in constant contact with a pet.

Many parents are afraid of germs. None of us want to see something bad happen to our children, and for good reason! However, Man's Best Friend and his Kitty Counterpart have come to show us, yet again, just why we need each other. Studies like this show a few things about our children's health. First, their little immune systems can be much more resilient than we think, and secondly germs are not always bad. Leave to our furry friends to help us with this health lesson.

Sources: AJC From Savannah, GA Health Day L.A. Times,0,6527217.story
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