Having a family pet may halve children’s risk of developing allergies to animals, a new study has claimed.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, who studied almost 600 youngsters, found that early exposure to cats and dogs prevented them becoming allergic later in life.
The first year of a child’s life is the most important period in building up resistance, said lead researcher Dr Ganesha Wegienka.
“This research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life, and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitised to these animals later in life,” he said.
For the study, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, the researchers followed 565 children from birth until they reached adulthood. Periodic contact was made with the parents and the children to collect information about exposure to cats and dogs.
When the children were 18 years, their blood samples were analysed, comparing the levels of antibodies to dog and cat allergens.
It was found that being exposed to the specific pet in the first year of life was the most important exposure period, and the exposure appeared protective in some groups.
Young men whose families had kept an indoor dog during their first year of life had about half the risk of becoming sensitised to dogs compared to those whose families did not keep a dog in the first year of life.
Both men and women were about half as likely to be sensitised to cats if they had lived with a cat in the first year of life, compared to those who did not live with cats.