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Home Science Good Science Pets and Allergies

Pets and Allergies

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“Having a pet in the house during the first year of a child's life could halve the risk of them becoming allergic to the animals, a study suggests,” reported the Daily Mail.

This story is based on a study that followed 566 children from birth up to the age of 18 years. It found that exposure to a cat in the first year of life was associated with a halved risk of having an immune system that was sensitised to cat allergens. The findings for dogs were more complicated, with the link between exposure and reduced risk of later sensitisation found in boys only.

This study used an appropriate design for investigating the link, but it also have some limitations that make it difficult to conclusively state that childhood pet exposure reduces the later risk of allergies. Only about half of those eligible participated, and the numbers analysed were relatively small. The way the researchers did their analyses also made it difficult to assess whether other factors might be influencing the results.

Although the results of this study are not conclusive, they do suggest that early childhood exposure to a dog or cat is not likely to make a person more allergic to these animals as an adult. However, much larger studies will be needed to confirm the findings.

This study suggests that having a cat in the first year of life may reduce allergic sensitivity to cats at age 18. The results for dogs are less clear. The study used an appropriate study design for addressing this question, but there are several limitations that need to be taken into account when interpreting its results:
  • Less than half of the offspring from the 1,194 eligible pregnancies were included in the final analyses. The results may have been different if all offspring had been followed up.
  • The number of individuals analysed was relatively small. Studies in larger samples of people will be needed to confirm the results.
  • The study relied on mothers and children to report parental allergies, and on teens to recall pet exposure from age six to 18 years. These reports may have some inaccuracies.
  • The researchers carried out separate analyses for offspring with and without a parental history of allergy, but this did not have to be specifically a dog or cat allergy. Homes where parents had a cat or dog allergy might have been less likely to have a pet, and this could influence the results, particularly if a tendency to have allergies is to some extent inherited.
  • As with all studies of this type, there may be some unknown or unmeasured factors that may be influencing results. The study did not directly take into account in the analyses the factors that might influence results, such as parental allergy. Instead, the researchers repeated the analyses in different subgroups of people to see if they found different effects. This makes it difficult to know whether the links found would still be significant if these factors were taken into account.

Although the results of this study are not conclusive, they suggest that early childhood exposure to a dog or cat is not likely to make a person more allergic to these animals as an adult. Much larger studies will be needed to confirm this finding.



Links To The Headlines

How to beat pet allergy: A cat or dog at home could halve risk. Daily Mail, June 14 2011



Links To Science

Wegienka G, Johnson CC, Havstad S, et al. Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog- and cat-specific sensitization at age 18 years. Clinical and Experimental Allergy 2011; 41: 979–986



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Last Updated on Saturday, 23 July 2011 17:19  

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