Usually, when the words “pets” and “allergies” are mentioned in the same sentence, it’s because of the sneezing and wheezing our furry friends prompt in some people.
But increasingly, research is showing that man’s best friend might not just cause allergies for some people, but could also prevent allergies in others.
Researchers who followed a group of 833 boys and girls from birth to age 6 or 7 found that the children who were exposed to two or more cats and dogs during their first year of life were at lower risk for developing signs of allergies later on.
“Everyone’s always assumed that exposure is a bad thing. And if you have allergies, it is,” says study author Christine Cole Johnson, PhD, senior research epidemiologist for the Henry Ford Health System’s Department of Biostatistics and Research Epidemiology. The group presented their findings in San Francisco at the American Thoracic Society’s annual meeting.
It seems, however, that having pets in the household might have a protective effect, Johnson says. The group’s findings are in keeping with some other studies on the topic, which have found similar results in children exposed to cats and in children who live on farms.
The theory that some youngsters gain protection from early exposure to animals and other common sources of allergy–and that the cleanliness found in much of the modern world often has the opposite effect–is what experts call the “hygiene hypothesis.”
The topic is hotly debated, Johnson says, and the evidence is not strong enough to make recommendations either way. In the meantime, she says people with children and pets need not consider getting rid of the pets just because they have children–that is, unless someone in the family has definite pet allergies.
Others agree. Unless the child already has allergies or asthma, there’s no need to fret about the presence of a pet, says Sebastian L. Johnston, PhD, professor of respiratory medicine at the UK’s National Heart and Lung Institute and the Imperial College School of Medicine in London. Johnston co-authored an editorial on factors that may prevent asthma in a February issue of the British Medical Journal.
“If you’re worried about whether your child might get it, don’t worry,” he says.
Evidence from a number of studies suggest that pets and other factors are likely to protect against asthma and allergies. Although the hygiene hypothesis is still just that–a hypothesis–it seems to be the most plausible explanation for what researchers are finding, Johnston says.
Johnson’s study also found that the boys who were exposed to pets early in life tended to have better lung function later in life than boys who did not live with pets. The same observation was not made in girls, and the reason for this was not clear, Johnson says.
Article by: Erin King