A report by the University of Warwick and Novartis Animal Health has shown that children with pets have less time off sick

Children who enjoy a close relationship with a pet are less likely to take time off school due to sickness than children without pets, according to a study carried out by Dr June McNicholas from Warwick University.

Previous works have shown that pets can reduce stress, while this research suggests that pet owning children have more efficient immune systems – confirming the theory that animals really are good for your health.

The University of Warwick findings show that children who enjoy a close physical relationship with a dog or cat have a normal Immunoglobin A (IgA) level. This indicates their immune systems are working properly.

Children without pets are more likely to have IgA levels that are slightly higher or lower than normal.

It is thought that pets increase a child’s exposure to disease or infection, which conditions the immune system, improving resistance.

The 119 children who took part in the study came from a primary school in Warwick. As well as attendance records, saliva samples were taken to identify levels of IgA. The children also answered a questionnaire about them and their pets.

The most obvious worry for parents who are considering whether to buy a pet for their children is the spread of disease from animal to child but, according to Dr June Nicholas, their concerns are unfounded. “Although there are health risks involved, these are far outweighed by the physiological and psychological benefits,” she says.

Novartis Animal Health, which produces the Program Plus flea treatment, funded the study. It wanted to look at the benefits of owning a pet in comparison with the risks.

It is hoped the findings will reduce the number of pets given up for rehoming due to the arrival of a new baby. Many parents are misinformed about the germs and illnesses that pets can spread.

Norvartis Animal Health have produced a free booklet entitled “Cats, Dogs and Tiny Tots”. It focuses on the psychological benefits of pet ownership for a growing child and weighs these benefits against the possible health risks. It also offers advice about all the major zoonoses (illnesses which can be transmitted from animals to humans).

Toxoplasmosis, asthma and toxocariasis are among the subjects covered, and the booklet also gives contact details for organisations which can offer more specific advice.

Anyone wishing to receive a free copy of Cats, Dogs and Tiny Tots should send a C5 SAE (27p) to: Novartis Animal Health, 3 Disbrowe Road, London W6 8QG.

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