Prenatal Pet Exposure Linked to Lower Allergy Risk in Children

Expecting an addition to the family? If there's already a dog or cat in the house, here's good news.

August 11, 2011

Kids who grow up with pets may have an immune advantage.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Having a pet in the house does more for a family than provide a cuddle buddy and walking companion. A study published this week in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that when moms were exposed to pets while pregnant, their kids were less likely to have asthma and allergies.

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Researchers followed 1,187 newborns over a two-year period. They then analyzed blood samples from the children taken at birth, 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years. Babies born into families with indoor pets had 28 percent lower levels of IgE (a.k.a. immunoglobulin E), an antibody linked to the development of allergies and asthma.

Christine Cole Johnson, PhD, MPH, chair of Henry Ford’s department of public health sciences and senior author of the study, says, “We believe having a broad, diverse exposure to a wide array of microbacteria at home and during the birthing process influences the development of a child’s immune system.” In other words, exposure to a variety of ordinary germs, such as those from pets, early on seems to boost a child’s immune system and lower his or her risk of asthma and allergies.

You don’t have to be a newborn to get some of the other health benefits from living with a pet. Check out these six more benefits pets bring their humans.

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