Kids' Best Friend? Dogs, Cats May Lower Risk for Respiratory Illnesses

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If it weren't for his allergies and the risk to his son, Bakke said knowing more about the research out there on pets could make him change his mind.

"Not only could he gain from the social benefits of owning a pet, but there would be major health benefits as well."

It's those social benefits that experts say can also be protective for non-allergic pet owners and their families. Pet owners can attest to the happiness and humor animals can bring into their lives, and it's exactly those emotional benefits that contribute to physical health as well.

"There are families with pets that may gain some comfort from having pets, which may breed a healthier environment," said Shapiro, also the author of "Take a Deep Breath." "Stress is associated with illness. There may be the intangible effects of easing stress, and it may be the relief of stress that is could be a factor."

"There's no way to separate pets and kids in your life, especially if the pets came first," Nelson added. "If we keep our pets clean and parasite-free, keep our houses as clean as we can and wash our kids' hands, we don't have to be afraid of bringing pets into our household."

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