I love this story based on Finnish research. If the cat benefits people (cats do in many ways), cats benefit as well. The more useful the domestic cat, the better treated and respected he or she will be. Cat welfare is important to me. There are quite a lot of stories biased against the cat so a good news story is particularly welcome.
The research asked Finnish people with children and who kept cats and dogs as companion animals to keep a diary on their children’s health. People who had kids but not cats or dogs were asked to do the same thing. A comparison as to the children’s health was made. A straightforward method.
Before I go on, we should be aware that we need to treat research of this type with caution because the issues are complicated. One complication comes to mind: allergies to cat dander (specifically cat allergen Fel D1) creates runny noses!
However, that said, the children who lived with cats and/or dogs were healthier. This does not relate to total health but infections such as ear infections and colds etc. These can lead to secondary infections requiring antibiotics. Children who lived with cats and dogs were prescribed less antibiotics. Specifically, children living with ‘pets’ were 44% less likely to get an ear infection and 29% less likely to be prescribed antibiotics; a big improvement.
There are two points to make on that finding. The key seems to be that the child should be born into a home with a dog or cat. And the boost to the child’s immune system by the presence of the dog or cat is enhanced if the companion animal is an indoor/outdoor animal. I like that too. The outdoor cat/dog factor would seem to be due to the obvious observation that these animals will be in contact with more germs and walk them indoors exposing the child to them.
It is interesting to think that a lot of people keep cats indoors full-time partly to prevent them bringing in microbes and disease. I understand that, but there is a counter argument based on this research. The overly sterile home environment is not necessarily good because people cannot live their entire lives indoors. A sterile environment results in a less well developed immune response so when you go out you are more vulnerable to catching an infection.
It would seem that the ‘germs’ (layperson’s terminology) that the cat carries primes or helps to mature the child’s immune system making it more efficient. If however a companion animal is introduced to the household sometime after the child is born the increased exposure to germs may simply create a greater risk to the child who has not received the benefit of an improved immune system earlier in his or her life.
One last point; the dog comes out as more useful than the cat in this research. There was a 31% improvement in baby’s health with dogs over a 6% improvement with cats.
There are other benefits to a young child who lives with a cat. He will learn to like cats. He will be ‘socialised’ to cats. He will learn to respect the cat and in the long term that will lead to less abandoned cats and less mass euthanasia of unwanted cats.
I can’t find the actual research paper at the time of this post. If it turns up, I will link to it.