Young children who have a pet dog at home have reduced chances of developing asthma, according to a large Swedish study.
Exposure to a pet dog in the first year of life was connected to a 13% reduced risk of asthma in later childhood among the 650,000 children the researchers tracked.
The results support the idea that pets can boost the immune system and prevent allergies. However, more evidence is required as past studies have found contrasting results.
Of course, buying a puppy for a child who is already allergic to dogs would not be a good idea.
Man’s best friend?
Pets are a common cause of allergy – according to the charity Allergy UK, half of all children with asthma are allergic to cats and 40% are allergic to dogs.
When animals groom themselves, they lick. Skin cells coated in saliva (animal dander) are shed along with loose fur. This dander is what people usually become sensitized to.
The results in this latest study indicate that exposure in infancy to dog dander could actually be beneficial.
Children who grew up with a pet dog in their home were more unlikely to have asthma at the age of seven than children without dogs.
Living on a farm with many animals appeared to bestow even more protection, reducing the risk of asthma by approximately 50%.
Prof Tove Hall, lead scientist from Uppsala University in Sweden stated that their results validated the farming effect and that they also observed that children who grew up with pet dogs had approximately 15% less asthma than children without dogs.
She stated that these findings fit with the hygiene hypothesis which supports exposure to dirt and dust to improve our tolerance of common allergens.
However, if your child is already allergic, you should not get a dog to cure your child. This method will not work and will most likely make the allergy worse.
If you live with pets and are allergic, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of having an allergic reaction.
Allergy UK suggests:
- Regular bathing and grooming of dogs and cats can help
- Try to keep pets away from your bedroom, and if possible, the living area
- All dogs shed dander and therefore no dog is totally non-allergenic
- Use air filters and an efficient vacuum cleaner.