Exposure to pets in infancy and childhood probably won't increase a child's risk of developing an allergy to cats and dogs, and may actually protect against such allergies. Who says? Researchers from Detroit's Henry Ford Hospital.
As part of the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study, researchers tracked 550 children from birth to age 18. When allergy stats were looked at in teens, results showed that boys who had an indoor dog during the first year of life were half as likely to be allergic to dogs by age 18 than those who did not have an indoor dog in the first year of life. Girls and boys who had a pet cat as infants were 48 percent less likely to be allergic to cats than those who did not. Curiously, babies born via C-section seemed to benefit the most from having a pet around the house. The only group not to benefit? Girls with a dog in the house during their first year had a slightly increased risk of later being sensitized to dogs.
What's the connection? Scientist speculate that exposure to certain environmental allergy triggers, such as animal dander or dust, "might trigger an infant's immune system to develop tolerance for the allergens and the end result is that the child has reduced likelihood of developing allergic disease," Dr. Stanley Fineman, president-elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, tells ABC.
Good Dog or Good Genes?
But some allergy experts do not agree, saying that early exposure to dogs and cats may not mean much for later allergy risk because it could just be a case of allergies to cats and dogs running—or not running—in the family.
"The predisposition to develop allergic antibody is genetically determined," says Dr. Fineman. "It is, therefore, quite likely that the presence or absence of cats or dogs in the house relates to clinical sensitivity of parents or other family members."
In other words? Your family pet can probably stay put, even with a new baby in the house, but, "I would not recommend that parents rush out to get a pet for their infant in the hopes of reducing the likelihood that their child will develop allergic disease," Dr. Fineman tells ABC.