One More Reason to Let Your Kids Roll Around in the Dirt with the Dog

Can your family dog protect your baby's health?Can your family dog protect your baby's health?by Kristen Mucci-Mosier

Are you concerned that the dirt your dog brings into your home will harm the health of your child? You may not have to worry about that anymore. A new study suggests that a dog in the home may actually help the health of your little one.

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A recent study of nearly 400 children in Finland found that babies who lived with dogs during their first year were about one-third more likely to be healthy during their first year, compared to those without a pet in the home. The pup-loving population was 44 percent less likely to develop an ear infection and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics.

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According to the researchers, the reasons for the findings are not entirely clear. "One possible explanation might be that the dogs bring something inside the house-dirt, soil-that affects the immune maturation of the child, leading to more composed immunologic reactions to infectious agents later when the child comes in contact with viruses and bacteria," says the study's lead author, Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician who worked at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland at the time of the study. Full results of the study will be published in the August print issue of Pediatrics.

These findings aren't so shocking considering a report released by the National Wildlife Federation not so long ago, which said that letting children get dirty is good for them. The group found that children who stay inside watching TV and playing with high-tech gadgets are more vulnerable to obesity, ADHD, vitamin D deficiency and depression than kids who run around outside.

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Furthermore, the Hygiene Hypothesis, developed during the 1980s, taught us that our fears of microbes, parasites and amoebas were grossly exaggerated. We learned that when our kids are too clean early in life, they face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma and other autoimmune diseases. A 2010 Northwestern University study linked germ and pathogen exposure during infancy to a lower risk of cardiovascular inflammation in adulthood.

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So, where does that leave parents? The researchers don't recommend going out and buying a dog for the sake of your child's health. But perhaps all of these study findings can take a little guilt out of the pressures of modern parenting. So, next time your kids bring a dead worm inside to show you, perhaps you should recommend they take it outdoors and use it as the key ingredient for their famous mud pie.