An important study conducted by Robert Yolken, M.D. the chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurovirology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center showed that early exposure to dogs may lessen the risk of children developing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The study also explored if early exposure to cats had the same affect. It seems that it has not been proven if cats produce the same results.
It is not hard to understand how this is possible when you realize, as the article explains, that serious psychiatric disorders are associated with changes in the immune system. Changes result from exposure to different environmental conditions (not just pets). In the case of pet cats and dogs, they can affect the immune system through allergic responses, bacteria related to pets, contact with animal bacteria and viruses, the microorganisms in the home environment as well as the reduction of stress which changes the brain chemistry.
While this study has given us insight to another benefit of raising a child during his first 13 years with a dog (and possibly a cat), the study points out that more research is needed. It is my hope that researchers will eventually be able to pinpoint the exact cause of this benefit and develop a way to use it to help many people.