Along with moving and behavioral issues, one of the most common reasons people decide to surrender their family pet to a shelter is because they are expecting a new baby. Of course, no one wants to relinquish their four-legged baby to make way for a new, human bundle of joy, but sometimes the fear of and stress that accompanies this exciting change in life makes giving up the family dog or cat seem like the best option for everyone involved.

Perhaps the new parents are worried about not having enough time to walk the dog or play with the cat. Perhaps they are not sure how a pet will react to the infant, or about whether it’s even safe to have a baby around all that dirt, hair and dander.

But welcoming a new baby shouldn’t mean that you have to give up the relationship you have with your furry children. Many dog training schools and some shelters now offer classes on how to introduce your dog or cat to a new baby, and the internet is full of helpful tips on how to make the transition as easy as possible.

And for couples worried about the dirt and dander, a new study out of Finland suggests that instead of being bad for the baby, muddy paws and flying fur may actually be good for your child’s health!

According to a recent study from Finland, kids who grew up with dogs or cats tended to have fewer respiratory infections during their first year.

Researchers followed 397 children from pregnancy through their first year of life, and found that those living with dogs developed 31 percent fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent fewer ear infections and received 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions.

Cats also proved to be beneficial buddies although not as dramatically as dogs. Infants living with cats were still less likely to need antibiotics, but only by 2 percent. Researchers offered an opinion on why that might be.

“We speculated that maybe the dogs somehow can bring dirt or soil inside the house, and then the immune system is strengthened, or maybe it’s something about the animals themselves,” said study researcher Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at the Kuopio University Hospital in Finland.

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“According to our results, there’s no reason to be afraid of animal contact, or to avoid them,” Bergroth said. While many people preparing to have a child attempt to create an extremely hygienic environment, Bergroth said, the results show this may not be the best choice, because the immune system is not challenged.

This train of thought ties into previous studies that have shown that kids who live in a “too clean” environment have more colds, infections, allergies and asthma than kids who live on farms or play outside a lot. The study’s findings could imply that a pet offers an environment that challenges a young child’s immune system and helps it grow stronger.

Bergroth said she hopes the research will stop people from thinking that if “they’re having children, they should get rid of animals.”

So if you have kids and pets, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back for going the extra mile to help strengthen your children’s immune systems. And if you’re worried about bringing a new baby into your pet-loving household, know that one thing you can cross off your list of worries is a fear of dirty dogs or cruddy cats.

But while you don’t have to sweat the fur, dirt or dander, making sure any animals in the household are well-prepared for the arrival of the new baby is the best way to help ensure that this difficult phase will be less stressful for all involved. For more information, or to find dog trainers in your area who specialize in child-dog interactions, visit Family Paws™ Parent Education, or send an email to [email protected].