The New Flu Shot for Babies: Puppies! (cute pics)

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Now here’s a counterintuitive science finding: According to the latest research, babies who spend time around a dog or cat to in their first year of life get fewer colds than those who live in a pet-free household.

The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics last year, tracked the health of nearly 400 Finnish children born between September 2002 and May 2005. Researchers asked the childrens’ parents to keep weekly diaries recording several measures of health  — including coughs, sniffles, and ear infections — and also note if and when there was a cat or dog present in the house. After a year, the researchers found that both cats and dogs were linked to a reduced incidence of illness. But the benefit was significantly stronger for dogs: Babies who lived with dogs were 31% more likely to be in good health, while babies with cats only had a 6% advantage over those with no pets in the house.

And just how much of a difference did Fido make? It was pretty sigificant. Kids with dogs were 44% less likely to develop ear infections and 29% less likely to have used antibiotics during their first year of life.

That’s good news for dog-loving parents. And the research bolsters previous findings suggesting that overly sanitized environments aren’t good for our health.

“We think the exposure to pets somehow matures the immune system so when the child meets the microbes, he might be better prepared for them,” said Dr. Eija Bergroth, the pediatrician who led the study. In other words, all the germ-ridden pet dander might actually prime a still-developing immune system and teach it to fend off bacteria and viruses.

You can read more about the study at Time. But in the mean time, please enjoy these adorable pictures of an ultra-healthy baby with his immune-boosting friends:

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Photo source: Unknown! If you know who took these amazing pictures, let us know so we can give them due credit.