Consider Early Pet Exposure

posted June 14th, 2011 by
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A new study has found that having a dog or cat as a pet at home during the first year of life may actually help prevent allergies later on in life.

The study, published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, contradicts the thinking that many parents follow that they should keep their children away from animals because it may trigger an allergic effect.

In fact, researchers found, the young adults studied who had a dog or cat in their home as infants were only about half as likely to develop a significant amount of antibodies to dog or cat allergens. This is a process called allergic sensitization.

“Prior research about whether keeping a dog or cat at home causes allergies to that pet has been limited to outcomes in early childhood,” said lead researcher Ganesa Wegienka, from the Department of Public Health Sciences at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “In this report, we used a life course approach, similar to our examination of overall sensitization, to further investigate the relationships between exposure to indoor dogs and the risk of dog sensitization and exposure to indoor cats and cat sensitization.”

The study examined 566 participants enrolled in the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study birth cohort during 1987 to 1989 to see if there was an association between exposure to dogs and cats during life and allergic sensitization to the specific animal at age 18 years.

The researchers found that boys who had a dog during the first year of their life had half the risk of being sensitized compared to those who did not have a dog in the home. The association was not observed in girls while teens who had an indoor cat in the first year of life had a reduced risk of being sensitized to cats.

“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 sensitized to these animals later in life,” Wegienka said in a news release.

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