Pets & Allergies

For the last 30 years, allergists and paediatricians have been telling us that having pets in our homes increase our children’s risk for developing allergies to those animals.  A new study suggests this wisdom may be wrong.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a research team assessed the home environment of 474 healthy children.  The study began when the children were a year of age and continued until they were six or seven years old.

At the end of the study period, the children were tested with a skin prick test for a reaction to six common allergens.  These included two types of house dust mite, tag weed, bluegrass, do and cat allergens.

The children who lived with two or more dogs or cats during the first year of their lives has a 15% chance of developing sensitivities to dogs and cats.  If there was only one dog or cat, or no pets in the home, the incidence of reactions to dog and cat allergens jumped to 34%.

The trend continued as the kids grew up.  With two or more dogs or cats, children were half as likely to test positive for any of the allergens (not just for dogs or cats) than those kids who grew up with one or fewer pets.

Though allergies are believed to be inherited, this did not seem to have a measurable effect on allergy incidence in this study.  Surprisingly, even if parents had allergies to pets, it did not influence their likelihood of having four-legged family members.  Researchers also found that children growing up on farms, especially those with farm animals, had fewer allergies. The results suggest that exposure to something in the environment from pets can reduce the risk of developing allergies.  It may be the pet dander or bacteria on the pet itself: we can only speculate.  This study will probably lead to an investigation about the role that environment plays in triggering the development of allergies.  One theory suggests that exposure to large amounts of foreign protein (such as cat dander or dog hair) may stimulate a tolerance to those antigens so an allergic response fails to develop.

For decades, we have had to deal with negative attitudes toward pets because of their connection to allergies.  Hopefully, this research will halt the fear and open the door for everyone to experience the joys of four-legged family members.  I hope this information will help answer some questions about whether you should buy a dog if you are worried about allergies.  If you are allergic to dogs, you will be allergic to all breeds of dogs.