We’re used to thinking of pets as companions but more than ever before they’re being celebrated for the health benefits they can bring to the home. Some people even say that having a pet can boost children’s immunity to illness. Is this true, and if so, what other health issues should you bear in mind when bringing a pet into your family?

What the experts say

Research conducted in Finland suggests that children who share their homes with dogs or cats are less likely to have ear infections or respiratory illnesses like coughs and colds. This is thought to be because spending time around furry animals, and all the different microbes that live on them, helps to prime their immune systems and make them develop more rapidly. It feeds into wider research that has shown that keeping the home too clean may actually make children more vulnerable, and that outdoor play can help them to resist common infections.

Allergy issues

It was long thought that furry pets made children more vulnerable to developing allergies but now researchers are saying that the opposite is true. Parents whose children already have allergies or suffer from autoimmune problems like asthma should avoid getting pets, as doing so could make them worse, but children who are around furry animals from a very early age are more likely to grow up with healthy immune systems that do the job they’re supposed to do, instead of targeting the wrong things.

Pest control

Although all this news looks great, there is a caveat – pets can introduce all sorts of pests into the home; this can be a nuisance for young children, who may find it difficult to escape them or to communicate about the problem. This means it’s all the more important to clear fleas and other pests from your pets proactively, before problems manifest. The best way to do this is to use a use a professional quality treatment and undertake regular grooming, especially when your pet has just come inside.

Pets and general health

As well as helping with immune system issues, pets can be great for your children’s health in general. By encouraging exercise they help keep children fit and improve the development of the muscles, heart and lungs. By providing companionship, they reduce stress that may come from parents working long hours or from family difficulties. They can also help children to develop physical skills like standing, walking and running. Importantly, for healthy children, the health benefits of having a pet significantly outweigh the negatives.  They make parenting easier.

Pets are great fun for children and it’s always rewarding, as an adult, to watch them play together. Play should be supervised because young children may try to grab pets in ways that hurt or upset them. The last thing you want to conflict but just as your child learns to respect the pet; the pet will learn to care for the child. It could be helping to protect your child’s health just by being there.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Robert Jones says:

    Yes … get your child an alligator. Can’t go wrong…..

    Or more seriously: as a child, I had dogs, hamsters, rabbits – very boring, rabbits – and a couple of tortoises. Fifty-five years on, I might still have had the tortoises, but unfortunately English winters ensured all three died of pneumonia; apart from the one who escaped, who might for all I know still be tearing through the countryside at a rate of knots. Pets teach you about compassion – or as much as I possess – responsibility, if you’re not careful they’ll teach you more than you’re quite ready to know about sex, and death. They’re good things – whether they help with boosting the immune system I have no idea; I was as prone to colds, scarlet fever, measles, chickenpox as most children growing up in the ’50s, but it will observed I didn’t die of them. Make of that what you will. (And I never caught anything from a pet: it all came from other kids.)

    And teach your children to respect animals, not to treat them as playthings – most of the accounts of children being attacked by dogs probably derive from neither children nor adults understanding dogs’ warning signs: they’re still at far more risk from the human animal, all the same.

  2. Robert Jones says:

    Will BE observed. You need an edit function, and I need new specs.

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