Growing up, my family had a labrador retriever named Timmy. Timmy was a good dog. He had a unique talent for finding rocks around our backyard — the bigger the better — and dropping them on our feet. Timmy lived a good, long, and happy life.

After Timmy, we had a Siamese cat named Koko. Cats are totally different than dogs! Koko was a good cat. No, he was great — I loved that cat! Very cool, very funny, very expressive cat. Also very allergenic. To this day I cannot be in the same room as a cat — or with a person who owns one. In fact, if I start to sniffle and sneeze while examining your child, they’ve given away their preference in pets.

Today, I have a dog — a yellow lab — named Dash. If there is a better, sweeter, smarter, and happier dog on this green earth, I’d like to meet them. Dash came to us eleven years ago when I was recovering from cancer surgery, and he may have been the best medicine for me as anything. Dash has had medical crises of his own — congestive heart failure last winter alerting us to his life-expectancy — but he is getting along fine now, still a puppy at heart. He’s given me, my wife, and my boys more than I can explain in these few words — companionship, love, germs. For my three boys, the germs might be his biggest gift of all.

A new study confirms that when children grow up with animals, they have a lower risk of developing asthma. The findings, Alexandra Sifferlin explains, is consistent with the hygiene hypothesis, which says that exposure to animals protects children’s immune systems:

In the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at over 376,600 preschool age and over 276,200 school age students and found a possible benefit to being around animals early on.

Exposure to dogs (having a parent who was a registered dog owner) during the first year of life was linked to a 13% lower risk of asthma in school age children, and farm animal exposure was linked to a 52% lower risk for school age children and a 31% lower risk among preschool age kids.

“This information might be helpful in decision making for families and physicians on the appropriateness and timing of early animal exposure,” the researchers conclude.

 

It’s never too early if you ask me.

 

More PediaBlog on the hygiene hypothesis here and here.

 

(Red and Rover by Brian Basset — GoComics.com)