Pets boost children’s immunity

Studies show that children who have pets at home are more likely to have stronger immune systems and take fewer days off school. Researchers at Warwick University found that antibody levels in pet-owning children were significantly more stable, indicating that they had robust immune systems.

These findings apparently support the “dirty hypothesis”, the researchers say. It suggests that too much cleanliness early in life can leave the immune system weakened later on. It has also been linked to soaring rates of childhood asthma in recent years.

Dr. June McNicholas, a health psychologist who led the study, said, “Pet ownership was significantly associated with better school attendance rates. This was apparent across all classes, but was most pronounced in the lower school (classes one to three, aged groups five to eight)”.

Another study polled over 3,000 children whose health state was followed-up from birth to 6 years old. Blood analyses revealed that, in households with dogs, children had a decreased risk of asthma, wheezing, allergic rhinitis and eczema, compared to those living in dog-less homes.

“Early exposure to germs brought into the house on dog fur could stimulate maturation of the immune system,” Dr. Joachim Heinrich of the Institute of Epidemiology at the Heimholtz Center in Munich, explained. Thus, the early stimulation of the body’s defenses help the immune system not to run into allergic overdrive when facing sudden exposure to dust house mites, pollens and other triggers.

SOURCE: University of Warwick Press Release, February 1999; European Respiratory Journal (

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