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Dogs and Cats Make Babies Healthier

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Forget organic food and baby yoga -- if you want a healthy kid, get a pet! Researchers found that young children who lived with a dog or a cat spent fewer weeks with ear infections, coughs or running noses and were less likely to need antibiotics than infants in pet-free homes.

They noted that dogs were the most powerful deterent to sickness -- but cats still provide some protection. One possible explanation is that dirt and allergens brought in by animals are good for babies' immune systems.

Medical advantages

This isn't the first time the link between child health and pets has been proven:
  •  A Swedish study found that pet exposure during the first year of life was associated with a lower prevalence of allergic rhinitis and asthma in children ages 7 to 13 years old.
  •  A large-scale survey of 11,000 Australians, Chinese, and Germans found that pet owners made up to 20 percent fewer annual visits to the doctor than non-pet owners.
  •  A study of 256 children, ages 5 to 11 years, in three schools in England and Scotland found that kids with pets had fewer sick days.
  •  A study of 100 children younger than 13 years who owned cats found that more than 80 percent said they got along better with family and friends.
  •  Studies have linked family ownership of a pet with high self-esteem in young children and greater cognitive development.
  •  Children with pets at home score significantly higher on empathy and pro-social scales than non-pet owners.

Animals Teach Children Empathy and Compassion

Studies also show that children who own pets have more empathy and nurturing ability, and as they grow into adulthood, essential skills to develop meaningful relationships.
  • Researchers in Poland studied the impact of keeping dogs or cats at home on the social development of 530 children 4-8 years old. Those children with pets had higher scores in pro-social behavior and self-reliance than those without pets.
  • A study in Germany found that children 6-17 years old with diagnoses of anorexia, bulimia, anxiety disorder, and autism had improved behavior with a therapy dog than without one.
  • A study in Australia concluded that animal-assisted preventive efforts are an optimal vehicle for promoting nurturing and empathy.
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