A new study from Japan, involving more than 65,000 infants and their parents, has found that exposure to dogs or cats during fetal development or the first few months of life lowered the odds of a later food allergy by about 14 percent. The researchers examined children’s risk up to age 3. Dog ownership reduced the risk of egg, milk, and nut allergies, while cat ownership reduced the risk of egg, wheat, and soybean allergies. This study adds to the growing literature that pets could have many health benefits for children, including lower rates of dermatitis, wheezing illnesses, respiratory allergies, and asthma.
Another study in 2019 found that living with dogs reduced the odds of developing a food allergy by 90 percent and kids in households with two or more dogs had no food allergies. The 2019 study directly tested young children for food allergies while the current study relied on parents’ questionnaires, possibly explaining the difference in numbers, although both are statistically significant.
Although a strong correlation exists, the studies can’t prove that the pets themselves reduce the risk of food allergies. Families with a history of food allergies may also have pet-dander allergies and be less likely to have pets. A direct relationship can’t be proved without a randomized controlled trial, in which pregnant women would have to agree to be randomly assigned to either have a pet or not.
However, the benefits of exposure to animals continue to be demonstrated, from pets to farm animals, it seems that a biodiverse environment promotes immune development and healthy children. Other research-backed ways to reduce the development of food allergies include exclusive breastfeeding for the first four to six months after birth, avoiding cows’ milk during the first days of life, introducing peanuts in an age-appropriate manner, and growing up on a farm.
Read more (via Washington Post)