The surprising way pets are keeping children healthy

Has your kid been begging for a furry friend? It may be time to grant their wish after experts in Sweden found a surprising connection between our pets and our children’s health.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg have published a new study purporting that “the prevalence of allergic disease in children aged 7–9 years is reduced in a dose-dependent fashion with the number of household pets living with the child during their first year of life.”

That means that having a pet — or more than one — can decrease a child’s risk of allergic reaction, including serious conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema.

Among two separate samples — a cross-sectional cohort that answered a questionnaire and a birth cohort that was recruited to participate — researchers noticed the same overall trend. The risk for allergic reaction decreases among children who spend their youngest years surrounded by pets.

In the cross-sectional cohort, researchers found that 49% of children who had neither a cat nor dog before their first birthday had experienced an allergy. But that number dropped to 0% among children who spent their first year of life with five or more pets.

Meanwhile, data from the birth cohort indicate that children whose families owned one or more pets when they were six months old are less likely to ever experience allergic reactions.

These findings are based on a “mini-farm” effect — having animals around has long conditioned infants to develop immunities to certain allergies, and as actual farms become less prevalent, household pets have taken over that role.

So what does all of this mean for you? Well, if you’re looking to expand your family, it may be time to consider a dog even before you decide on whether to have a child. Among pets’ many superpowers, it seems allergy-busting is one. And if you can save your future little one from serious health problems by adopting an adorable puppy, why wouldn’t you?