By Wei Hua Chen, MD
Parents can take comfort from knowing their children’s health is enhanced by interaction with beloved animal companions.
Animal-lovers can rejoice thanks to recent Finnish research which finds that children who interact with animal companions in the home are healthier and have stronger immune systems than children without exposure to animal companions.
It is with much gratitude that we share an article on this topic by Dr. Wei hua Chen, MD. Dr. Chen is a famous medical physician in his native Formosa (Taiwan) where he specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology. A former director of the Taiwan Military General Hospital at Keelung Branch, he is also an expert in naturopathy. He is currently director of the Taipei Loving Clinic.
The following is a reprint from The Liberty Times in Taiwan.
Finnish Study Shows Animal Companions Actually Help Strengthen Children’s Immunity
Written by Wei Hua Chen, MD
Originally published in The Liberty Times, March 7, 2013
Having animal companions at home can enhance children’s health. National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland published in Pediatrics magazine “Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts”, a prospective study about how animal companions impact children’s health. The study tracked 397 Finnish children starting from their mother’s pregnancy until they turned one-year-old. The researchers found out that those children who had contact with dogs and cats at home were healthier and less likely to suffer from coughing, otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear), rhinitis (inflammation of the nose or its mucous membrane), or other illnesses that requires short treatment with antibiotics.
The study highlighted that the contact with a dog or cat on a daily basis can significantly reduce the incidence of babies’ suffering from respiratory tract infection. Although cats offer less health protection for babies than dogs, they do have protective effects for the babies’ respiratory tracts (from infection).
The study found that children with a dog at home are healthier than those without a dog or cat in the home. In other words, the number of weeks out of a year in which the children with a dog at home were free from fever or other illness was 31% more. In addition, compared to children without a dog at home, there were 44% fewer ear infections, 20% fewer fevers, and 29% fewer incidence where antibiotics was involved among children who had contact with dogs at home.
Interestingly, it didn’t help enhance the baby’s health if the dogs were not allowed to enter the house even if they were kept around.
To have the best result on children’s health by keeping a dog is to let the dog stay inside the house for about six hours a day. Doing so increased the number of illness-free weeks by 46%, decreased 37% fever, 40% rhinitis, and 62% ear infection, and reduced the number of days in need of antibiotics by 46%. To keep dogs inside for more than sixteen hours a day would increase the number of illness-free weeks by 41%, but would not help reduce the incidence of fever or otitis media or decrease the number of days in need of antibiotics.
To keep cats inside for some time a day would increase the number of illness-free weeks by 64% although it would not significantly reduce the incidence of fever.
In addition, other studies have found that keeping cats and dogs can also reduce the risk of gastroenteritis. These findings support the theory of “it’s important to be exposed to animals in the first year of life.” Contact with dogs or cats in infancy would result in less disease for babies, which may then allow them to develop a stronger immunity to respiratory and other infections, including colds and otitis media.
Pay attention to hygiene with animal companions
It is recommended that the families who want to keep animal companions not to purchase them, but to adopt them. In this way, you do not encourage those who sell animal companions for profit, leading to inhumanely over-populating dogs or cats. Besides, you can help reduce the number of abandoned stray dogs and cats being unnecessarily put down.
Most importantly, when raising animal companions, make sure to pay attention to the hygiene of animal companions and family members to prevent the occurrence of infectious diseases.
We express our deep appreciation to the Finnish scientists for helping us realize that allowing our children to interact with our beloved animal companions can improve their health. We also extend our sincere thanks to Dr. Chen for graciously allowing us to republish his article, and to Supreme Master Ching Hai for the many ways in which She enhances our understanding of the entire animal kingdom.