Exposure to dogs as a child reduces your risk of this mental disorder
You’ve probably read about some of the benefits of exposing children to pets at a young age. Animals can help socialize children and teach them empathy, increase verbal skills and confidence, and even help protect them from allergies. But according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins, there’s another benefit to exposing a child to a dog at a young age: a reduced risk of schizophrenia.
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers studied the implications of a child having contact with dogs and cats during the first 12 years of their life, and the impact it might have on the development of bipolar disorder or schizophrenia later on in life.
They examined 1,371 people between the ages of 18 and 65, of which 396 suffered from schizophrenia, 381 suffered from bipolar and 694 were mentally fit. The participants were asked whether they owned cats or dogs before the age of 12. The results showed that the participants who were exposed to dogs before the age of 13 were 24% less likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Study author Robert Yolken, MD, explained, “Serious psychiatric disorders have been associated with alterations in the immune system linked to environmental exposures in early life, and since household pets are often among the first things with which children have close contact, it was logical for us to explore the possibilities of a connection between the two.”
The study did not show a significant statistical link between exposure to dogs and bipolar disorder, and the results were unclear on whether cat exposure reduced or increased the likelihood of developing bipolar or schizophrenia.
Yolken noted, “The largest apparent protective effect was found for children who had a household pet dog at birth or were first exposed after birth but before age 3.” He added that exposure to dogs allows children to come into contact with different microorganisms that help boost the immune system and may in turn help prevent schizophrenia.