Early Exposure to Pets Does Not Increase Risk of Allergies for Kids

Study shows that children exposed to pets in the first year if life are less likely to be allergic to them later on.

A new study has confirmed the “Urban Legend” status of the notion that keeping pets in the same house as young children will cause them to become allergic to the animals; in fact, the evidence from the findings suggests that this act may actually reduce the likelihood of a child becoming allergic to a family pet.

The study was performed by researchers from the Department of Public Health Sciences, Henry Ford Hospital, led by Ganesa Wegienka, MS, PhD.

The researchers studied a group of children from their birth until they reached adulthood. Periodically, the researchers would contact the parents and the children to collect information about the participants’ exposure to cats and dogs.

565 of the study participants supplied blood samples to researchers when they reached the age of eighteen. The researchers measured the antibodies to dog and cat allergens in the samples.

The researchers reported that that exposure to a specific animal—dog or cat—in the first year of life was the most crucial exposure period, and the exposure actually appeared protective in some groups of participants.

For instance, young adult males whose families owned an indoor dog for the first twelve months of their life had a 50% lower risk of becoming sensitized to dogs compared to young males whose family did not keep an indoor dog during their first year of life.

The study also found that both males and females were about half as likely to be allergic to cats if they had cohabitated with a cat in their first year of life, in comparison to children who did not live with cats.

"This research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life,” Wegienka stated, “and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitized to these animals later in life.”

This study is published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy.