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Are Cats or Dogs More Protective For Children’s Health?

Sharing one’s home with a cat or dog may decrease the risk of infectious diseases in children, including ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and gastroenteritis.

February 18, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

C. Grüber, T. Keil, M. Kulig, S. Roll, U. Wahn, V. Wahn. History of respiratory infections in the first 12 yr among children from a birth cohort. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 2008 19(6):505 - 512

J. S. Heyworth, H. Cutt, G. Glonek. Does dog or cat ownership lead to increased gastroenteritis in young children in South Australia? Epidemiol. Infect. 2006 134(5):926 - 934

E. Bergroth, S. Remes, J. Pekkanen, T. Kauppila, G. Büchele, L. Keski-Nisula. Respiratory tract illnesses during the first year of life: Effect of dog and cat contacts. Pediatrics 2012 130(2):211 - 220

L. K. Koivusilta, A. Ojanlatva. To have or not to have a pet for better health? PLoS ONE 2006 1(NA):e109

G. B. Parker, A. Gayed, C. A. Owen, M. P. Hyett, T. M. Hilton, G. A. Heruc. Survival following an acute coronary syndrome: A pet theory put to the test. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2010 121(1):65 - 70

K. Hatakka, L. Piirainen, S. Pohjavuori, T. Poussa, E. Savilahti, R. Korpela. Factors associated with acute respiratory illness in day care children. Scand. J. Infect. Dis. 2010 42(9):704 - 711

H. Herzog. The Impact of Pets on Human Health and Psychological Well-Being: Fact, Fiction, or Hypothesis? Current Directions in Psychological Science 2011 20(236):NA

K. Allen, B. E. Shykoff, J. L. Izzo. Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress. Hypertension. 2001 38(NA):815-820

Straatman, Ilanka; Hanson, Eamonn K.S.; Endenburg, Nienke; Mol, Jan A. The Influence of a Dog on Male Students During a Stressor. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People & Animals, Volume 10, Number 4, 1997, pp. 191-197(7)

Wright JC, Moore D. Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge. Public Health Rep. 1982 Jul-Aug;97(4):380-1.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to all my furry babies—all rescues!

Image thanks to Petteri Sulonen via Wikimedia Commons

Transcript

To my surprise, "studies of the effects of pets on human health and well-being have [actually] produced a mishmash of conflicting results."  Some studies show pets lower your blood pressure, in fact in some cases more than drugs do, but other studies found no effect, or even that pet owners have higher blood pressure.  Does having a pet increase your survival after a heart attack, or decrease your survival after a heart attack? One area where there's a bit more consistency is children's health. The presence of furry pets in the home appears to cut the odds of acute respiratory illnesses in half, and even decrease the risk getting the common cold, but which pets work better? Cats like my Charlotte Emily and Ralph, or dogs like my Lilly? Published recently in the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics "Respiratory Tract Illnesses During the First Year of Life: Effect of Dog and Cat Contacts," "the first study that has evaluated the significance of pet contacts during childhood for the development of respiratory tract [symptoms and] infections," including ear infections. They found "dog and cat contacts during early infancy may be associated with less [illness] in general and may have a protective effect on respiratory tract symptoms and infections." But as to which is better, "In comparisons between cat and dog contacts, dog contacts showed a more significant protective role on respiratory infectious disease" "children having a dog at home were significantly healthier, had less frequent otitis, and tended to need fewer courses of antibiotics during the study period than children without dog contacts." "Cat ownership seemed to also have an overall protective effect, although weaker than dog ownership, on the infectious health of infants." Though when it comes to protecting children from tummy aches, both cats and dogs appeared equally protective in reducing the risk of gastroenteritis. 

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

That's Lilly at the beginning of the video—is she a cutie-pie or what?!

Protection from respiratory infections and tummy ailments is one thing, but what about cancer? See my video Pets & Human Lymphoma. Of course it's best if you don't eat them—see my last video Foodborne Rabies.

Please be sure to check out my associated blog posts for more context: Which Pets Improve Children's Health?Schoolchildren Should Drink More Water, and Probiotics During Cold Season?

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://twitter.com/AnnaPurnita Anna Purna

    Yeah, but your cat is making you crazy

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/03/how-your-cat-is-making-you-crazy/308873/

    and your dog is giving you breast cancer

    http://bit.ly/VZOk1i

    • Effie

      Dogs in the home fill up hearts with unconditional love. NOTHING is healthier than love. My unscientific opinion..

    • beccadoggie10

      How does a dog give you breast cancer? Do you use harmful chemicals on the dog? If you do, shame on you!

    • beccadoggie10

      Anna, How is “your dog giving you breast cancer?” Link is dead!
      I’ve had dogs in my life from 1945 through 2006, and do not have, nor have either my mother or I ever had breast cancer, and neither of us were vegans during that period of time.

      My mother died of dementia or Alzheimer’s at the age of 90, and I am now almost 71. No cancers at all!

      Not everything you read online is true or even accurate.

    • Rodica Atzberger

      The cat stuff is old news, it seems that society is driven by that parasite in a subtle way:
      http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2008/10/05/toxoplasma-the-brain-parasite-that-influences-human-culture/#.Umk84-0W2WA
      The “craziness” manifests only in people with compromised immune system it seems. Or well, in cat hoarders too.
      As about the the breast cancer and dogs study: maybe it should have been taken into consideration an important aspect: the emotional pattern of the women. Maybe most of the ill women needed pets/dogs in the first place because of some feelings of helplessness/loneliness/lack of love and affection. Maybe those emotional patterns are responsible, not the dogs. If yes, the dogs rather helped in keeping them healthier than without them in the households. It would be nice some study about health of humans and their dogs, studied in accordance with their measured heart coherence. And their cats too.

  • Brigitte

    Hi Dr. Greger,

    My question is a bit off topic, but what is your opinion of vegan cat and dog food?

    Best regards,
    Brigitte

    • brit

      no dogs and especially cats should not go vegan. They have a totally different digestive tract to humans (theirs is short) requiring an acidic diet vs our need for alkalinity.. Dogs can be omnivores but should not be totally vegan, long term problems will result. Cats are obligate carnivores and totally cannot digest grains. I am vegan but feed my dogs fresh meat/veggie meals.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

      As a physician I’m a very limited veterinarian in that I only know one species–sorry!

    • imagine7generations

      Dr Andrew Knight, the world’s top authority on vegan pet food interviewed by Vegusto UK

  • mike

    You’ll have to excuse me, but I totally disagree with animal slavery… of any type!

    • taylor

      If you read the latest scientific evidence from the duke canine cognition center, you will find that dogs (as wolves) actually chose humans as companions, rather than humans purposefully domesticating them. And that during testing they found that dogs prefer the company of their humans over that of another dog or being alone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

        Interesting Taylor.

    • Veganrunner

      Oh you are serious. I thought you were joking.

  • TE

    Charlotte, Emily, Ralph and Lilly are adorable! :-)

  • Theresa

    Cats and dogs in the home make it much dirtier.

    • beccadoggie10

      Cats and dogs in the home make the home healthier because of natural antigens which produce antibodies in our immune system. There is clean dirt/dust, pet hair, paw prints. And there is toxins from anti-bacterial cleaners which may increases allergies, infections, and disease.

      I’d rather have the natural antigens, and the love of pets!

  • Vegan QT

    I hope they do a study comparing vegan children without pets in the home and non vegan children with pets in the home. My toddler and a few others (vegan and petless) are sick once a year and never an ear infection, compared to our friends’ toddlers (non vegan with dogs) who have ear infections every year and about 3+ bouts with colds/flu every year. All the tots were breastfeed and none attend daycare.It would be interesting to see which as a stronger influence on the immune system diet or dogs:)

    • Veganrunner

      We have pets, I breast feed, great diet and my kids are rarely sick. Attendance awards for not missing school. Organic whole foods, no junk but not vegan. But tons of veggies and fruit, nothing processed. It must be the food and the cuddly dogs.

      • Vegan QT

        I would still perfer a study on the subject. “Rarely sick” isn’t exactly scientific…;)

        • Veganrunner

          Oh you really do want a study. Protections from respiratory infections by having pets isn’t adequate. You want to know if vegan kids without pets are sick less often?

          My children with pets and not vegans were sick less than once a year and were not vegan. Never had an ear infection and never have been on antibiotics. You mentioned your kids so I had an anecdotal reference to mine.

          • Veganrunner

            But I will add, I wish they were vegan babies.

          • beccadoggie10

            My grandson from a non-vegan family with 3 indoor cats, and one outdoor-indoor dog who sleeps in the house, washes the face and mouth of toddler grandson. Yet, grandson is never sick, no ear infections, no antibiotics yet. Of course, he’s just turning 2. Daughter feeds him very well. All certified organic. Lots of vegan type foods. Since she’s allergic to soy, she does not give much to her son. But, he’s had and loved Miso. Even sucked on lobster legs at age one for Christmas, to my horror. But Ethan loved it and no repercussions, fortunately.

          • Veganrunner

            Sounds like my kids. All those yummy germs.

          • beccadoggie10

            I had respiratory infections after moving to Louisiana from the Rockies, possibly because of the high degree of humidity, the vast use of toxic chemicals that were tracked into my home and left in the carpets, the spraying by exterminators of my house for insects. Something that is expected down here.

            When I put my foot down after having read multitudes of articles in Environmental Health Perspectives, the Journal of the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and said, NO MORE toxic chemicals in my house. The chemical treatments are worse than potential diseases from the insects. The spraying stopped. Removal of the wall-to-wall carpeting thanks to hurricanes Lili and Rita, and the placement of porcelain tile and wool area rugs stopped all respiratory infections. Wool area rugs are warm, and can be rolled up and cleaned under with non-toxic cleaners are beneficial. The more I learned what was in air fresheners, the less I used them. Phenols damage our health and our brains, they numb our senses.

            It’s time to use your brain by reading and writing down ingredients on products, doing research on them prior to purchasing the product. And remember that cleaning products contain, alike pest controls, so called inert ingredients which are proprietary secrets and may be more toxic than the active labeled ingredient.

            It is not pets that contribute to most respiratory problems, it is the chemicals you use to clean your home and mask odors.

    • beccadoggie10

      My daughter’s toddler son has 3 cats and one dog, and no one in the family are vegan, although Ethan is fed certified organic and very healthy veggies. Shortly after being weaned from breast milk at 19 months, he was drinking beet juice, kale with ginger smoothies; finger food included chick peas. He’s one healthy, trim and muscular baby, who is rarely ill, but his nose always runs. It could be the sage brush of the Texas hill country that have affected his and his families health.

  • Michelle

    Dr. Greger – your furry kids are very cute! Lilly looks like she knows how to get comfortable. ;)

  • Hunniliz

    I think the pertinent question is why would pets in the home have a protective effect on children’s health. What is the mechanism that provides the protective effect.

    • beccadoggie10

      Why? Pets and their dander, common household germs, or antigenic substances in a child’s environment may produce antibodies and boost immunity to allergens or some diseases. This, common sense approach, is called the precautionary principle, and it drives regulation in the European countries.

      In the USA, however, PR campaigns are driven by vested interests and one such drive is to evoke fear of germs and bacteria and then sell Triclosan, which was registered as a pesticide in 1969, and is now in a myriad of products to kill fungi, bacteria and germs. Toothpaste, hand soaps, body soaps, cleaner wipes for household and commercial surfaces. There are even antibacterial fabrics and clothing to prevent body odor, containing triclosan. With all these antibacterials, why do we need vaccines to fight influenza? Are people getting sicker because of overtly clean surfaces?

      Triclosan (2,4,4’ –trichloro-2’-hydroxydiphenyl ether) is a chlorinated aromatic compound used as a synthetic broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent. Triclosan was first registered as a pesticide in 1969. According to the U.S. EPA: “Triclosan is used as a registered pesticide only in a small portion of its overall uses. In commercial, institutional, and industrial equipment uses, triclosan is incorporated in conveyor belts, fire hoses, dye bath vats, or ice-making equipment as an antimicrobial pesticide. Triclosan can be directly applied to commercial HVAC coils, where it prevents microbial growth.

      As a material preservative, triclosan is used in many products
      including adhesives, fabrics, vinyl, plastics (toys, toothbrushes),
      polyethylene, polyurethane, polypropylene, floor wax emulsions, textiles (footwear, clothing), caulking compounds, sealants, rubber, carpeting, and a wide variety of other products. It has been used in latex paints; however registrants who use it in paint have recently requested a voluntary cancellation.” More at: http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/REDs/factsheets/triclosan_fs.htm

      Laboratory studies have found that it may disrupt hormones, interfere with muscle function and promote the growth of stronger bacteria — and other research suggests it is building up in the environment to the possible peril of wildlife. What’s more, there is no evidence that hand-washing with soap containing triclosan or other anti-microbial ingredients offers any health advantages over regular soap and water, according to advisory committees for the American Medical Association and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. According to
      Dr. Sarah Janssen, a physician and senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group. “It doesn’t work, it’s not safe and it is not being regulated.”

      Read the Chicago Tribune article at: http://tinyurl.com/bxq5d8s

      Common sense like having antigens including pets in the home has a more positive effect on children’s health because antibodies are produced that fight disease and build immunity to infections. This is absent is you listen to Madison Avenue Public Relations in the media.

  • LynnCS

    I am so sad to have lost my last kitty a short while ago. I don’t think I will ever get another pet. It is too hard to keep things up. I don’t have a recirculating/filtered heating or cooling system. I am still finding areas of the house that she found to use as a nest or a potty. She had feline asthma for years and required daily medicine which made her need to drink a lot and urinate a lot. I’m only saying this because like kids, you get what you get and it is a lifetime of caretaking. I couldn’t just let her go in and out to do her business so she required a litter box which added to the dust in the air and all around the house. If you work full time and take care of things yourself. It can be a lot of work and it also added to MY allergies. It’s always fun to have a pet, but like anything, there are side effects (so to speak!) It is really important to think hard before taking on a pet.

    • beccadoggie10

      I took care of my daughter’s cat after she left for college and then graduate school down under in New Zealand. The cat was obese. She was also elderly, and had diabetes. Every day I had to give her insulin injections. Nikki, the cat, would tell me when she had to use the litter box, but she would fall over, too weak to stand and squat. She also told me when it was time for her to go (die) just short of her 20th birthday. I took her to our vet and had her put down while I stroked her ears and under her chin and told her the pain would go soon.

      After Nikki died, we wrapped her in a warm cloak and buried her in the front garden. Several of our much loved pets had been buried in one garden or another. It gave both the pets and the three of us peace knowing that they would not be frozen and tossed into a dumpster and headed for a landfill. At least they were buried were they loved to lurk.

      I have empathy for your loss.

      My dog had to be put down the day I started Physical Therapy for a hip replacement, as I tripped over her pulling of up diaper. She had incontinence and I learned later, bone cancer. The bone cancer occurred from tasting some so-called “free” top soil my husband had filled holes in the backyard where Hurricane Lili tobbled a 60 foot tall cedar tree. The soil was contaminated with radionuclides from the drilling of oil and gas production waters in South Louisiana. Radionuclides are amongst the components of normally occurring radioactive material NORM wastes from pipe-yards and are a proven cause of bone cancer. Lots of pets, and people had bone cancers during the period of so-called cleanup operations where opportunists mixed the NORM waste with soil and gave it away to unsuspecting gardeners.

      Many things had occurred because my husband lacked common sense and thought as a “scientist” he knew better than I did as an environment activist. He was wrong. Because of his lack of consideration, he left our 10 year old German Shorthair pointer, who had always been a house-dog outside in an unheated dog house when it was a windy 26 degrees F. He even removed her sweater coat because he thought she looked “silly”. When I came home from having a hip replacement, I would let the dog in, he put her out, and we battled. I slept sitting up with her on a pillow by my side and washed down the house in the morning.

      That made me decide not to adopt another dog. If anything happens to me, he has proven that he cannot be trusted.

      All our lives we’ve had pets, and if it wasn’t for my injuries and his lack of common sense, I’d adopt another. But, now I care for the birds and coons in the back yard. They care for themselves as long as they have thawed clean water and fatty seeds or bark butter to give them more warmth and insulation, and shelter from the cold winds.

  • beccadoggie10

    When my daughter was an infant, she was rarely sick until we moved from Wyoming to South Louisiana (despite my not being vegan) but having a dog. After we lived in Louisiana for three years, she had constant ear infections, and ultimately followed the route of most young children. That is, needing tubes inserted into her ears to remove the fluid.

    We have always had dogs. But, having pets never made any difference to whether or not we had infections. What mattered here, was the humidity, and perhaps the mold and mildew. Wyoming was very dry alike my native state of Colorado. But, Louisiana is generally very humid especially in the warmer months. And, in both cases, our dog was in the house at night and on overly hot or cold days. Our dog was our daughter’s constant playmate.

    On the other hand, my daughter gave birth to her son in March, 2011 in Austin, Texas, another dry climate. Ethan was welcomed by three rescued cats and one rescued dog. The dog, Lokie adopted the baby and washed his face and opened mouth regularly, which was not detrimental to Ethan’s health. He’s been perfectly well all along. Granted, Ethan is just turning two, but so far, he’s in perfect health and all of his family eat meat.

    What may have made a difference in Ethan’s life is most fabric that come into contact with the baby were certified organic cottons–not recombinant DNA cotton, the food for his mom and for Ethan was all certified organic. Although, Heather was not very careful about what she ate or drank while nursing, to my dismay, And, when Ethan was weaned, his mother or father gave him juiced kale with ginger and apples –all organically grown. Not generally the first foods given to an infant, but Ethan survived and thrived.

    Ethan is solid. No fat anywhere, very healthy, Here, he’s trying to get his dog (seen only by her reflective eyes) into the shower, but the dog would not come out of his cave. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUwSZqQiLbc&feature=youtu.be

    • beccadoggie10

      Can you remove this video? I tried to edit it out but removed the message and the link remained?

  • Kassi

    How weird, I must be the oddball exception. My mom rescued chows and I had tons of respiratory and ear infections and even stomach troubles all my childhood.

  • gail

    What about 70 year old woman living alone?