Close to 70% of all households in the United States have one or more pets according to data from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Even with so many households having pets, up to 30% of Americans have allergic reactions to pet dander and fur on animals such as cats and dogs. New parents of a baby often are nervous about having a pet for fear that their child may have an allergic reaction to them or will develop an allergy later in life. However, the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan suggests that the opposite is actual true based on a recent study. According to the study, having either a cat or dog during the first year of a child’s life may potentially aid in preventing pet allergies later in life.
This information is quite a relief to some parents that didn’t know if having a pet would be a good idea, but a pet during the earliest years potentially has protective properties for pet allergies. Epidemiologist, Ganesa Wegienka, led a research team which studied the correlation between pet exposure over the course of a lifetime and the allergic sensitization of a total of 566 girls and boys that were enrolled in a study called The Detroit Childhood Allergy Study. Each child was kept track of from birth until they turned 18 years of age. Families were asked to complete annual surveys which involved information regarding cats and dogs that lived in the home. Only pets that spent at least 50% of the time indoors were included as indoor pets. When the children turned 18, they took blood tests to test for allergic sensitization. The blood test given evaluated the children and specifically looked for the existence of IgE allergen antibodies.
Based on the blood tests that were conducted, the researchers found that when the participants were exposed to pets with fur directly inside their home during the first year of life, there was an obvious reduction of allergic reactions to that animal in their life. Exposure within the first year was the most important factor found to reducing the risk of allergies. Exposure to animals any other time during the participant’s life had little of no protective effect on pet allergies later in life.
Especially in boys, it was found that having a dog within the first year of life decreased the risk of developing a dog allergy by close to half. It was also found that, for some unknown reason, children that had a cesarean birth had a decreased risk of nearly 70% of developing a dog allergy if a dog was present in their lives during the first year. Dr. Wegienka believes that because vaginal births expose babies to micoflora, and cesarean births do not, those born vaginally have immune systems that are slightly more susceptible to having allergies.
In regards to cats, girls and boys who had one in the home during the first year were found to be 48% less likely to develop a cat allergy.
This research is extremely important, as it provides yet another benefit of the importance of experiences during the first year of life which can be directly correlated with positive or negative health status’ later on in life. It also sets the record straight about early pet exposure and makes clear that it does not put children at higher risk of having pet allergies later in life, but rather has the completely opposite effect. Even though the results seem accurate and reputable, more research still needs to be conducted before a recommendation is made about getting a cat or dog to prevent allergies to the animal. For those interested, the results of this study can be found in the Clinical and Experimental Allergy Journal.
Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog-and-cat specific sensitization at age 18 years. Wegienka, G. et al. Clinical and experimental allergy. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03747.x.
Reynolds, D. RD. 2011. Indoor Furry Friends May Prevent Later Pet Allergies in Children.