Q: When it comes to children’s health, is it good or bad for them to grow up with pets? My spouse and I plan to have children, and we’re trying to decide whether to adopt a dog now or wait until the children are older.

A: Many studies demonstrate that children who grow up with pets or farm animals experience lower rates of allergy, eczema and asthma than children without animals. The prevalence of these diseases decreases as the number of animals increases.

A recent study examined whether pet ownership during childhood had any effect on subsequent development of psychiatric disease.

Researchers found that a dog in the family during the child’s first 12 years is associated with a 25% lower risk of schizophrenia — 50% if the dog joins the family before the child is 2.

Another study showed less depression and anxiety in children ages 4 to 7 who had dogs compared with children lacking pets.

An analysis of 22 studies examining pet ownership and children’s emotional, behavioral, cognitive and social development found many benefits to children having pets, including higher self-esteem, less loneliness, better intellectual development and greater social competence.

But it’s important to protect children from the intestinal parasites that pets can carry, particularly roundworms and hookworms, because both can infect humans.

Young children are at greatest risk because they often put dirty fingers and contaminated items in their mouths.

Most monthly oral heartworm preventives kill roundworms and hookworms. If you decide to add a dog to your family, ask your veterinarian to prescribe a preventive that kills these parasites.

Then, enjoy knowing that your decision to let your children have pets will be good for everyone.

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Q: A new friend invited me to her home, and I was surprised that one of her cats was missing an ear tip. What was left of the ear looked normal, except that it had been cut in a straight line.

I’m wondering: Is this woman in a cult that tortures cats, and should I report her to the authorities?

A: You should start by talking with her. Ask her why her cat’s ear tip was cut off in a straight line.

I’m confident she will respond that she adopted the cat from an organization that sterilizes feral and other free-roaming cats to help control the feline overpopulation problem.

Ear-tipping alerts other volunteers that the cat is sterilized and can be spared the stress of being trapped and anesthetized for a surgical procedure that has already been performed.

TNR, or Trap-Neuter-Return, limits feline population growth because the sterilized cats can’t breed and also protect their territory from intruders. Sterilized cats are less of a nuisance to their human neighbors because they don’t engage in such breeding behaviors as fighting, yowling and spraying urine.

These cats also are vaccinated to protect them and the public from rabies.

Rare free-roaming adults, and many kittens, can be socialized and placed for adoption, where they find a family that gives them affection, security and good care for the remainder of their lives.

I’ve shared my home with several ear-tipped, formerly free-roaming cats, and I’ve loved every one of them. Your new friend is probably doing the same.

Lee Pickett DVM practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Click here to ask her questions for her weekly column. The opinions expressed are her own.