Pets During Childhood May Reduce Risk for Allergies

A recent study suggests that young children who have an indoor pet during the first year of life may be less likely to develop pet allergies.

Allergies to pets, most commonly to dogs and cats, are due to the oily fluids secreted from the skin of animals. These fluids contain allergens that are capable of triggering the body’s immune system to overact to the normally harmless substances. This overreaction is known as a hypersensitivity reaction, or allergy.

In a new study, researchers evaluated the association between lifetime exposure to dogs or cats and the development of allergies to the pet by the age of 18 years. The researchers followed up with individuals who participated in the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study birth cohort during 1987-1989 when they reached the age of 18. Annual interviews and animal-specific allergy data were evaluated.

The researchers found that males who had an indoor pet dog during the first year of life had half the risk of developing a dog allergy by the age of 18 than males who had no pet dog. Additionally, when compared to those without a pet cat, both males and females who had a pet cat during the first year of life had a 48 percent reduced risk of being allergic to cats by the age of 18. Having a pet during any other year of life was not linked to a reduced allergy risk.

Wegienka G, Johnson CC, Havstad S, Ownby DR, Nicholas C, Zoratti EM. “Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog- and cat-specific sensitization at age 18 years.Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 2011 Jul;41(7):979-86.

Republished with permission of Natural Standards Research Collaboration ©2011.