15 June 2011

Beagle my baby: Study shows pets protect people from allergies

Want to help your children avoid allergies when they grow up? A new study finds that the key to having a lower risk for allergies as an adult is being exposed to pets when you're a baby.

That's right. Babies born into homes with cats and dogs, when compared to babies from pet-free families, were roughly half as likely to be allergic to animals when they reached adulthood. Interestingly, exposure to pets after age one seemed no have no effect on allergy risk, showing that timing is crucial to preventing allergies. The study was the first of its kind to investigate the connection between pets and allergies over a long period of time—in this case, researchers followed 566 children from birth to age 18.

The researchers, writing in the journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy, believe that early exposure to pet allergens and bacteria strengthens infants' immune systems, helping them build up a natural immunity that confers benefits that last for years.

Although some parents fear that pets in the home may provoke their children's allergies, the study's lead author, Dr. Ganesa Wegienka, disagrees, saying:
"I would not get rid of my dog if I was having a child. There's no evidence that you should get rid of a dog or a cat."
This new study corroborates a 2008 study that also identified health benefits of living with pets. In that earlier study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, mothers with either cats or dogs in their home during pregnancy delivered children whose umbilical cord blood had different antibody levels than those with mothers who lived without pets. The study's findings supported the researchers' hypothesis that pet exposure influences immune development in a manner that is protective against allergies and is operant even before birth.

Bottom line? If you're pregnant or have a newborn and don't have a cat or dog in your home, it might be time to visit your local animal shelter and adopt one. You'll be doing the pet, and your baby, a world of good!

Elizabeth Gordon | Facebook
Elizabeth is an Asian-Appalachian writer, activist, and college professor living in north central Massachusetts. Once an avowed carnivore, she was a vegetarian for 15 years before making the conversion to veganism. She is passionate about trying to live a life that lessens, rather than contributes to, the amount of cruelty and suffering in this world. Follow Elizabeth on her Vegosphere blog and Facebook page.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/freschwill