Do Pets Really Reduce Kids’ Allergy Risk?

By: Heidi K. Bailey, MD

Heidi K. Bailey, PA-C

Heidi K. Bailey, MD

Is it possible to prevent allergies and asthma in children by having a pet?

This is a million-dollar question!  There have been several studies that have been conducted world-wide trying to answer this difficult question.  So far, there is no clear answer.  The question is difficult to study. There are many factors, both genetic and environmental, are likely to be associated with the development of allergies and asthma.

There was some initial thought that pet ownership in childhood may lead to an increased risk of developing allergies.  Then, as the hygiene hypothesis emerged (the idea that living in too clean of an environment and not being exposed to micro-organisms, may account for the rise in allergic disorders), the idea that pets might actually prevent the development of allergic disorders began being investigated.

The data from these studies has been variable, showing in some studies a reduced risk associated with pet ownership and in some cases an increased risk associated with owning a pet and developing a future allergic disorder.  This is likely related to additional factors that we don’t yet understand.  Currently, there is not enough information for us to recommend having or not having a pet to prevent future allergies or asthma in children.  Therefore, pet ownership decisions should be made based on family preference at this time, not based on trying to prevent your child from having allergic disorders.  This is different from the knowledge we have about people who already have allergic symptoms around pets.  We are able to give parents and patients advice about living with allergies and pets, but not about prevention of allergies with pets.

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