Children who start contacting domestic dogs before the age of three can prevent schizophrenia as adults, new research has found. A new study from the Johns Hopkins University Institute of Medicine suggests that contact with domestic dogs in the first few years of life can reduce the risk of schizophrenia in adulthood. However, the study did not have the same experimental correlation on pet cats, and children between the ages of 9 and 12 who came into contact with pet cats had a slight increase in the risk of developing schizophrenia as adults.
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Referring to the study’s original findings, lead author Robert Yolken said: “There is a strong link between severe mental illness and the environment in which you grow up at an early age, and family pets are often closely related to children, so we hope to find a link between the two.” “
In their current study, Yolken and colleagues studied 1,371 men and women between the ages of 18,371 and 65, including 396 people with schizophrenia, 381 people with bipolar disorder and 594 controls. Information recorded for each person includes age, gender, race/ethnicity, place of birth and the highest level of parental education (measured in socioeconomic status).
Using statistical models that produce a risk ratio, the team charted the relationship between the age of first-time family exposure to pets and psychiatric diagnosis. The team analyzed four age groups: born to 3 years old, 4 to 5 years old, 6 to 8 years old and 9 to 12 years old.
Surprisingly, the results showed that people who had been exposed to a pet dog before their 13th birthday were significantly less likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia (up to 24 percent), Yurken said. Children who had a pet dog at birth, or who were exposed to a pet dog before the age of 3 after birth, had the lowest risk of schizophrenia.
If the data are a reflection of current reality, Yolken said, about 840,000 cases of schizophrenia (3.5 million in the United States, or 24 percent) can be prevented by keeping a dog and can be prevented in this way.
The paper’s research was published in PLOS One.
Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine