(HealthDay News) – Frequent contact with dogs during a child’s first year of life is associated with fewer respiratory symptoms and infections, less frequent otitis, and the need for fewer antibiotic courses.

Eija Bergroth, MD, of the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, and colleagues conducted a prospective birth cohort study involving 397 children who were followed from birth to determine whether the number of contacts with dogs and cats affected the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections within the first year of life.

Compared to those without dogs, the researchers found that children with dogs at home had fewer respiratory tract symptoms and infections, were 44% less likely to have otitis, and tended to need fewer courses of antibiotics. Illness due to respiratory infections was decreased in children with higher numbers of weekly contacts with dogs and cats and in those with a higher average yearly amount of contact. Contact with cats produced similar, but weaker, results.

“To our knowledge, this is the first prospective study in which the frequencies of respiratory infectious symptoms and diseases are compared with weekly amounts of pet contacts in a diary follow-up manner during early infancy,” the authors write. “Our results suggest that dog contacts protect children from respiratory tract infections during the first year of life.”

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