Living with pet dogs may prevent childhood asthma, a large Swedish study has found.

Spending regular time around a dog during the first year of life was linked by researchers to a 13% lower risk of asthma in later childhood.

Children who had grown up with a four-legged friend were less likely to have asthma at the age of seven than those without dogs.

The study of 650,000 children, published in JAMA Pediatrics, supports the idea that pets can reinforce the immune system and prevent the development of allergies.

Conflicted results

However, more evidence is required before new parents rush out to buy a pet pooch as previous studies have come up with contradictory findings.

Erika Kennington of Asthma UK, said more research was needed to better understand the effects so that it could be turned into practical advice for parents of young children.

Amena Warner of Allergy UK said: “There have been a few studies that have alluded to this but not such a longitudinal study with so many children so from that point of view this is quite a powerful study. It’s very welcome.”

Hygiene hypothesis

Lead scientist Prof Tove Fall, from Uppsala University in Sweden, claims that the research supports the hygiene hypothesis which poses that exposure to dirt and dust can improve our tolerance of allergens.

She said: “Our results confirmed the farming effect and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15% less asthma than children without dogs.

“That’s important information for parents who are pregnant or are planning to have a baby, that they should not worry about getting a dog or a puppy if they would like to.”

Living on a farm with lots of animals is believe to give children the great protection from common allergens, cutting the risk of asthma by about 50%.

The researchers also point out that buying a dog for a child who has already has an allergy to them would be harmful.

“But if you have an allergic child you should not get a dog to cure your child. It won’t work and will probably make the allergy worse.”

Living with allergies

Pet allergies are caused by a sensitivity to allergens to the proteins found in an animal’s saliva, flakes of skin (dander), faeces and urine.

For those already managing a pet allergy, Asthma UK give the following advice:

  • Keep pets out of your bedroom and living areas wherever possible
  • Groom and bath of cats and dogs regularly – vets can give advice on this
  • For people with a cat allergy, air filters and an efficient vacuum cleaner may reduce symptoms, although the evidence of this is unclear
  • If you are thinking of getting a pet but you aren’t sure whether it will trigger a reaction, it’s important to consider getting an allergy test first. You could also spend time with the type of pet you are thinking of getting, either by borrowing a pet to stay in your home or volunteering at an animal shelter

Source: BBC News