Playing with the family dog, cuddling it, feeding it, entrusting it with secrets – living with a well-behaved dog can help children develop into happy, empathetic, and self-confident people. As Swedish scientists have now found, dogs not only promote social and motor development but also strengthen the health of the little ones.
Researchers from Uppsala University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm looked at the likelihood of developing asthma in children with and without a dog in the household. This serious chronic respiratory disease can significantly reduce the quality of life of those affected and has become increasingly common since the 1970s. Experts attribute this, among other things, to increased hygiene in the living environment. According to the German Lung Foundation, ten to 15 percent of children in Germany are affected by asthma.
For the study, anonymous data from around one million children born between 2001 and 2010 were analyzed. Since every citizen in Sweden has an identification number, it was possible to determine factors such as visits to the doctor, diagnoses, and also animal husbandry in the family and to link the results. The analysis focused on the probability of a child having asthma by the age of six.
The result was published in the specialist magazine “JAMA Pediatrics” (Issue 11-2015) and is a plea for the family dog: “Children with a dog in the household develop asthma 15 percent less often than children who live without a dog in the family”, says dr Tove Fall from Uppsala University School of Medicine. This conclusion confirms previous studies by German, Swiss, and Finnish research institutions that had already shown positive effects of animals on children’s immune systems: According to these studies, the risk for children who grow up with a dog in the household of developing allergies and respiratory diseases decreases.