Have you been debating if you should get a dog? We all know they take up a huge amount of time and energy. Or maybe potential damage to your home (or shoe collection) is deterring you from picking up a puppy? But if you have gone through all the pros and cons and are still undecided, the latest research from Sweden may give you that final nudge you need to say yes – especially if you have young children or intend to start a family in the years to come.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – Pediatrics, claims that children growing up in a home with a dog, particularly in the first year of life, are significantly less likely to suffer from asthma in comparison to children in homes without a dog. Even children at higher risk due to their family history of asthma benefit from having a dog.

Previous studies have established an association between lower childhood asthma rates and exposure to farm animals. The theory is that children growing up on farms are exposed to various bacteria from farm animals, which in turn helps them to develop a healthy immune system. As a result they are far less likely to go on to develop immune diseases such as allergies and asthma.

Many people do not have the opportunity to live alongside sheep and cows prompting the authors of the study to look at the effects of exposure to a family pet. The study looked at all children born in Sweden during the period of January 1, 2001 through December 31, 2010 – an estimated 1,011,051 children using data from farm and canine registration, as well as asthma diagnosis and medication use. The authors analyzed information from January 1, 2007 until September 20, 2012 of school-aged children (6 years old) and preschool-aged (1-5 years old). As with farm animals, dogs expose us to a wider variety of bacteria and appear to lower the risk of developing asthma. The results were strongest with children who grew up in close proximity to animals during their first year of life.

Any dog lover will tell you, there are many benefits to owning a dog. Walking them helps to keep us healthier and make us far less likely to suffer from depression or stress. Now, thanks to scientists from Sweden, we can add another reason to the list of why owning a dog is such a great idea. (Psssst kids who didn’t find a puppy under the tree this Christmas – pass this information onto your parents!)