That’s right. The germs that dogs track into the house—particularly dogs who spend as much as 18 hours a day outside—help newborns build up immunities that allow babies to more easily ward off illness, such as ear infections, the bane of every new mom and dad’s existence.
The findings were reported in the medical journal Pediatrics, which published the results of the study of 397 children who lived in rural and suburban Finland.
The dogs, and to a lesser extent cats, helped the babies ward off respiratory tract infections and ear infections during their first year of life.
“The children having dogs at home were healthier, they had less ear infections and they needed less antibiotics,” said Eija Bergroth, the study’s lead author and a pediatrician affiliated with Kuopio University Hospital in Kuopio, Finland.
Under one measure, children with dogs were reported as being healthy for about 73% of the time, compared with about 65% of children with no dog contact at home, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Now of course this goes against every instinct of the new mother, who wants to take a giant bottle of Purell to the entire planet when her precious little one enters the world. The idea of exposing the baby to even one germ is enough to send a new mom into shock—as evidenced by the all-too-common sight of tiny babies swaddled in five blankets in the midst of a summer heat wave.
Both of my daughters were born in June—which meant that my wife Denene and I went through those early newborn months smack dab in the middle of summer. Which meant that my wife’s instinct to cover the babies as much as possible so they won’t catch a chill wasn’t exactly practical when there were no chills in sight, but that’s what new moms do.
And then there was the case of her two cats, Jordan and Stark. One was a goofy, playful tabby cat, the other was an ornery, moody black cat. The yellow cat was Jordan, named after Michael Jordan; the black cat was Stark, named after New York Knick star John Starks. Yeah, I know the color was switched—we’re writers; we need some irony in our lives.
Denene had these cats when we met. I was never a big fan, but at times in the beginning it almost seemed like a test of our relationship; you don’t love the cats, you don’t get to love Denene. So the cats and I tried to develop a grudging respect for each other—except the black one still seemed to hate me. But I didn’t take it personal because she hated everybody—particularly my son, who was just a few years old at the time and liked to do a lot of sprinting. The black cat didn’t like little kids sprinting past her—I think she didn’t take kindly to anyone around her having fun. She would hiss and sometimes even lunge at the boy.
I wondered what would happen when Denene had children of her own. I got my answer soon after Mari was born and we found the goofy yellow cat in the crib with her one day. Denene found a new home for both of those cats probably before nightfall. They were gone, never to be seen again.
This is all to say that animals and new moms aren’t always the best of friends, even when said animal used to be the object of all her affection before baby’s arrival. But this new study out of Finland may offer some hope, some semblance of rescue, for all those pets out there who are halfway out the door because of the arrival of baby. Now you have some ammunition, Rex and Fido and Scout. Thrust this study in mommy’s face, tell her you and your germs are good for the little one. You might have a chance to stick around.
But something tells me this study would not have saved Jordan or Stark from immediate exile about 13 years ago to this date. I hope the little bastards had a good life.