Dogs, Kids, and Health

Kids and dogs are a natural combination. You might bring your new baby into a home already populated with “fur babies,” you may choose a dog to help your child learn to be responsible by caring for a furry friend, or your definition of “family” might always include both dogs and kids. However it happens, you want to be sure that your child’s health is not threatened by your pup!

Health benefits of dog ownership

Adults can benefit from owning a dog. There is evidence that dog owners are more likely to get regular exercise, that dogs help people cope with stress, and that owning a dog correlates with a lower risk from cardiovascular (heart) disease.

There is also some research on the general health effects of dogs on kids. One study found that kids who lived with dogs had fewer respiratory infections than children who didn’t have contact with dogs. They were also less likely to have ear infections, and took fewer antibiotics. The effect is strongest when kids live with dogs in their first year of life.

Kids who live with dogs are less likely to get asthma and  eczema, too. A Scottish study found that kids with dogs were more compassionate. And several studies have found that having a dog in the house can keep children from suffering the results of living in too clean an environment.

While one study questions the relationship between dogs and healthy kids — they found that families with dogs had other advantages — the preponderance of research shows that dog ownership generally correlates with better health, for kids and adults.

Lifestyle effects

It seems that having a dog encourages better lifestyle choices. People who own a dog are more likely to take walks, because their dogs need walks. They’re more likely to be sociable, because their dogs are sociable. They’re more responsible, because caring for a dog requires responsibility.

Some researchers figure that these facts mean there’s nothing special about dog ownership. If dogs encourage healthier behaviors, however, they’re also encouraging better health.

Health concerns

Dog ownership may generally be a good thing. But there are still concerns.

Have you heard that “Dogs’ mouths are cleaner than human’s mouths” ? National Geographic confirms that dogs might have fewer types of bacteria in their mouths than human beings. This isn’t necessarily good news, though. The bacteria in any creature’s mouth is likely to be the type of bacteria that has evolved with that creature. Human beings haven’t developed antibodies to cope with the kind of bacteria in a dog’s mouth.

Dogs put all kinds of things in their mouths that we wouldn’t want our kids to get into contact with, so limiting contact makes sense. The Centers for Disease Control recommend washing hands after contact with dogs or their feces. The CDC has a list of illnesses that can be spread from dogs to human beings. This list will inspire you to wash your hands, and you kids’ hands, too!

It’s not great to let your dog lick your baby or child’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Dog bites are more serious than puppy slurps and kisses, though.

A well-trained dog won’t usually bite a child, but kids can behave in ways that frighten or alarm dogs. Teach your child not to pull a dog’s ears, not to hit or kick a dog, and not to disturb dogs which are sleeping or eating.

The bottom line

If you keep your dog healthy and teach your child how to behave with dogs, your pets and kids can live together happily. Just remember to wash hands and limit slurps! If you have questions about how to integrate pets and dogs into your family, ask your pediatrician for further information.