Naturopath Danielle Steedman looks at the health benefits of having a dog as part of the family.
For a while now I have been trying to convince my hubby that what our family really needs is a dog. And, while he is slowly coming around, I think I have found a new angle in our debate – our son’s health.
The health benefits of having a pet are well recognised. Pet lovers may experience less anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure and heart rates enjoy valuable companionship from their furry friends and have more motivation to exercise, with all the associated health benefits.
Now it also seems that the germs that pets, and particularly dogs, so generously share with their two legged friends may have a beneficial effect on the human immune system, particularly when young. Research suggests kids brought up in households with dogs are less likely to suffer conditions like allergic rhinitis, asthma, atopic dermatitis and allergic asthma.
Researchers think that exposure to bacterial endotoxins and animals early in life may shift the developing immune system to be less reactive to common allergens, helping to protect against developing allergies such as allergic eczema and asthma.
You may have heard of this theory before, known as the ‘hygiene hypothesis’. The theory is that the prevalence of modern allergies may have been created by our obsession with cleanliness, as historically microbial exposure was important for normal development of the immune system. Robbed of exposure to these bugs, an infant’s immune system is under stimulated, setting off an ‘allergic march’, a combination of reactions that may lead to what are common allergies in kids today.
So, I am arming myself with these persuasive arguments that my hubby can’t deny, that a dog is important as part of our son’s health and development, not to mention a great friend. The research has also suggested that these effects occur in children raised on a farm, and I would love to get back into horse riding, so maybe a dog is just the start…
References available upon request