Indoor Furry Friend May Prevent Later Pet Allergies in Children
As many as 70% of U.S. households have pets, according to estimates from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, but about 15 to 30% of Americans have allergic reactions to pets with fur, such as dogs and cats. New parents are often worried about having a pet in the home as they fear it will increase the risk of their children later developing pet allergies. However, a new study from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit suggests the opposite is true. Having a dog or cat during the first year of an infant’s life may help prevent allergies later.
Pets in the Home During Infant Years May Be Protective
A research team, led by epidemiologist Ganesa Wegienka PhD, studied the association between lifetime pet exposure and allergic sensitization in a group of 566 boys and girls enrolled in the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study who were followed from birth until age 18. Families completed annual surveys with information about indoor cats and dogs, defined as animals that spend at least 50% of their time inside the home. The children were tested at age 18 for allergic sensitization through blood tests that assessed for the presence of allergen-specific IgE antibodies.
Overall, the researchers found that being exposed to dogs or cats at home during the first year of life was the most important factor for reducing the risk of allergic sensitization to that specific animal later in life. Exposure at other times during childhood did not have the same protective effect.
Having an inside dog before age one reduced the risk of dog allergy by half, particularly in boys. Interestingly, boys and girls born via cesarean section had a 67% decreased risk of dog allergy when they lived with the animal during infancy. Dr. Wegienka explains that babies born via c-section aren’t exposed to microflora that babies born vaginally are, which might make their immune system more susceptible to allergies.
Both boys and girls who had indoor cats were 48% less likely to be sensitized to cats.
“This research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life, and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitized to these animals later in life,” said Dr. Wegienka in a news release. However, she warns more research is needed. “We don’t want to say that everyone should go out and get a dog or cat to prevent allergies.”
The results of the study were published online June 13 in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy.
"Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog- and cat-specific sensitization at age 18 years"
Wegienka G, et al. "Clinical & Experimental Allergy" DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03747.x.
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