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Home > Research Articles > Pet-owning Children "Healthier"

Press Association

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Pet-owning Children "Healthier" Press Association - June 14, 2002 Children from pet-owning families have stronger immune systems and take fewer days sick off school, new research has found. The benefits of pet ownership have been found most for children aged five to eight. Doctors who tested the saliva of 138 children found that those exposed to animals had more stable immune systems which meant they were better at fending off infection. They were also less likely to take days off school. Health psychologist Dr June McNicholas, from the University of Warwick, who led the study, said: "Pet ownership was significantly associated with better school attendance rates. "This was apparent across all classes, but was most pronounced in the lower school (classes one to three, aged groups five to eight). "Here, the pet owners benefited from up to 18 extra half days schooling per annum than their non-pet owning counterparts." The researchers tested children's saliva for the antibody immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is used as an indicator of immune system strength. High levels of IgA suggest that the immune system is under strain while low levels show that it is vulnerable to infection. The study showed that antibody levels among pet owning children were significantly more stable, indicating that they had robust immune systems. The results appear to support the "dirty hypothesis" which argues that too much cleanliness early in life can leave the immune system weakened later on. It has been suggested as one reason for soaring rates of childhood asthma.