By Nan Talleno

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – We all know that living with our dogs and cats can make us happy, now new research has shown that they can possibly help to keep us healthy as well.

New research has emerged from Finland that’s found that contact with dogs and cats at a young age was linked with fewer weeks of sickness or infection for babies and young children.

This theory is referred to as the “hygiene hypothesis.” Referring to the possibility that early exposure may cause a child’s immune system to mature faster, making it easier to defend against the viruses and bacteria that may cause respiratory problems. Babies and young children in families sharing their homes with a canine were 44 percent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics.

Parents filled out weekly diaries starting when the child was nine weeks old, recording information on their child’s health as well as their contact with cats and dogs.

Based on those diaries, researchers determined that thirty-five percent of the children spent the majority of their first year living with a dog and twenty-four percent in a home with a cat. Those living with a dog were reported healthy for seventy-six percent of the parents’ weekly diary reports.

The majority of children had at least some contact with a dog at their house during the study period and more than one-third were exposed to a cat.

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