Having pets early in life reduces risk of allergies

A new study has dispelled fears of many parents with babies about having dogs and cats as pets. The study shows that having dogs or cats as pets for the first few years of life can reduce the rates of allergies. The results of their study was published in the latest issue of the journal PLOS One.

Image Credit: Antoniodiaz / Shutterstock
Image Credit: Antoniodiaz / Shutterstock

The Swedish study shows that more the number of pets a child is around, less is the risk of their getting asthma, hay fever or eczema. Being in company of pets as children can train the immune system of the child by exposing them to microbes and bacteria the authors explain.

The team of researchers noted that children aged 7 to 9 years who were around four pets in their households when they were babies were half as likely (17 percent) to have an episode of allergy recently compared to children who were never exposed to pets (33 percent). This is the first study that shows that more number of pets mean lesser risk of allergies explained Bill Hesselmar, paediatrician at the University of Gothenburg and one of the authors of this study.

According to Hesselmar, the presence of microbes on the pets and their exposure in the kids could be the reason for this immunity development among children with pets. He added that they did not measure the microbes on the pets but believe this theory to be true. The team and other experts have added that exposure to microbes on pets during childhood can protect against allergies as well as other conditions such as obesity, vascular diseases, metabolic diseases, autoimmune diseases and inflammatory bowel diseases.

The team included 1,029 children aged 7 to 8 years old in one group and 249 8-to-9-year-old kids in another group. All the children were followed from birth. The children’s parents were asked if the child had experienced episodes of allergies such as hay fever, asthma or eczema over the last one year. Pets at home were also recorded for the cohort of children.

Results showed that children belonging to the smaller group had less number of allergy symptoms over the last one year and they had grown up with more pets than the children in the larger group.

The reason behind this is the exposure to the microbes the authors of the study said. Dr Hesselmar explained that those living in urban areas may benefit more because their pets remain indoors most of the time. “But I don't think having a pet or two will make any difference if, for example, you're living somewhere where you're exposed to a lot of microbes,” he added. Spending time outdoors could also expose a child to microbes and provide good immunity say experts.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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