Researchers believe that they’ve found a link between a lower risk of asthma and children’s early exposure to pets. The hypothesis is that kids in animal environments breathe air that contains more bacterial fragments…and that can be a good thing, as it may actually lower their risk of asthma. Parents in busy animal-and-baby households understand that it’s nearly impossible to keep everything clean all of the time and the study suggests that this may be beneficial for the baby’s future health.
We already know that dog ownership comes with some important health benefits. Dogs help reduce stress and stave off depression. They even lower the risk of heart disease in their owners since generally dog owners lead a more active and social lifestyle.
More than 230 million people worldwide have asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease whose causes are unclear. Both genetics and external allergens are suspected to play a role. In the United States, 8.5% of children have asthma.
For this new research, Swedish scientists studied more than one million children, combing through individual records and comparing people’s histories of family dog ownership against diagnosis of childhood asthma. Access to this data was possible because Sweden tracks medical records of all of its citizens through unique ID numbers, and the country also requires everyone to register dog ownership. Data analyzed for the study covered a time period from January 2007 through September 2012. The results of the research were published in the journal JAMA on November 2.
Among the children in the study, those who had been exposed to dogs during the first year of their life were 13% less likely to have asthma by age 6, compared to kids who had no exposure. The research also showed that school-aged kids who were exposed to farm animals in their first year of life were 52% less likely to have developed asthma by age 6 than those with no exposure. Among the preschool set of younger children, kids exposed to farm animals in their first year had 31% lower incidents of asthma between 1-5 years old compared to non-exposed toddlers.
Study author Tove Fall is an associate professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. Dr. Fall told Live Science that the lower asthma rate among children exposed to both dogs and farm animals might be due to a single factor, but is more likely a combination of factors related to a dog owners’ lifestyle and attitudes such as the kids “early exposure to household dirt and pet dust, time spent outdoors or being physically active.”
One positive takeaway message from the study is that parents fearful of childhood asthma don’t need to worry about keeping their dog or getting a puppy when they’re expecting a baby. This conclusion falls right in line with other previous hygiene studies that say being exposed to bacteria early in life can be critical for shaping a healthy and strong immune system.
What do you think? Does having a dog early in life decrease the risk of asthma? What other benefits are there to growing up with a dog in the house? Let us know in the comments below.