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Your Dog, Not Cat May Help Prevent Eczema


It seems that having a warm, fuzzy dog as a pet provides more than companionship and unconditional love. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital found that having a dog in a home with children who have dog allergies may reduce the child’s risk of developing eczema by age 4 years. Cats, however, do not provide the same protection.

Eczema risk depends on when you have a dog

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that typically begins in childhood. According to a new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 8.7 to 18.1 percent of children in the United States had eczema within the past 12 months, with the highest prevalence along the East Coast and in Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. The number of children with the disease is rising, and experts are not certain why.

In the new study of the association between dog and cat ownership and eczema in children, the researchers evaluated data from 636 children considered to be at high risk for developing allergies because their parents had allergies. All the children were tested for 17 different allergies each year from ages 1 through 4 years and their parents completed yearly surveys.

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Analysis of the data revealed that children who tested positive for dog allergies were less likely to develop eczema by the time they were 4 years old if there had been a dog in the home before the child was one year old. According to Dr. Tolly Epstein, who headed the study, “Children with dog allergies who did not own dogs were 4 times more likely to develop eczema.”

Homes in which there was a cat and children, however, did not always fare as well. Children who lived with a cat before age 1 year and who tested positive for cat allergies were 13 times more likely to develop eczema by the time they were 4 years old. Children who were not allergic to cats did not have an increased risk for the skin disease if there was a cat at home.

Parents may want to consider this latest information about the risk of eczema and having a dog and cat as companion animals in the home. The Humane Society of the United States offers tips on living with pets and pet allergies, and notes that some children outgrow pet allergies.

Epstein TG et al. The Journal of Pediatrics DOI: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.07.026
Shaw TE et al. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2010 Aug 26; DOI: 10.1038/jid.2010.251