For years we’ve known about the health benefits of living with furry friends: decreased blood pressure and heart attack risk, reduced depression rates and lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. We can now say that children who live with dogs early in life have a lower risk of asthma, too. A large-scale study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics evaluated over one million children for 10 years and found kids who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than youngsters who didn’t live with dogs.
The mega study was conducted by Swedish researchers and assessed over one million children from nine national databanks, including two dog ownership registries. Looking into families that are registered to own dogs revealed a previously untapped data goldmine that other scientists will surely follow. While other published studies have shown a link between growing up with dogs and lower asthma and allergy rates, this is the first study to provide high quality evidence of this positive impact.
“Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child’s risk of asthma to about half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true also for children growing up with dogs in their homes. Our results confirmed the farming effect, and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status,” reports the study’s coordinator and medical epidemiologist, Tove Fall, in an Uppsala University press release.
The study concluded that exposure to dogs and farm animals during the first year of life reduced the risk of asthma in 6-year-old children. This is important information for parents deciding whether or not to add a canine companion to their home. As a vet, I’m often asked by young parents, “When’s the best time to get a dog for our child?” This research validates my answer: “As soon as possible.”
Large studies published in prominent human medical journals like this are important for vets and pets because they clearly establish a positive health benefit to companion animals. One of the chief criticisms “pets are good for your health” studies get is that small numbers of participants or debatable methodology lead to confounding conclusions. In other words, maybe it was something other than the pet that caused the health benefit. These researchers emphasize the robustness and precision of their investigation and conclusions.
In my opinion, there are so many good reasons why kids should grow up with animals. In fact, I believe the emotional benefits of sharing childhood with animals potentially outweigh the physiological gains. This research proves growing up around farm animals or dogs reduces the risk of asthma. I say there’s even more to the wonderful story of animal cohabitation.