Children who grow up with pets have fewer food allergies
28th April, 2023
A new study shows that living with pets may help to protect children against food allergies.
Food allergies have become more common over the past few decades, affecting more than one in ten children in some high-income countries.
Previous research has suggested that being exposed to dogs or farm animals at an early age is associated with a lower risk of food allergies.
In the latest study, researchers in Japan analysed data on more than 65,000 infants and found that children who are exposed to cats or indoor dogs during foetal development or in early infancy had a lower risk of developing certain food allergies than children in pet-free homes. There was no significant difference for children in households with outdoor dogs.
Children exposed to indoor dogs were less likely to develop egg, milk and nut allergies, while those exposed to cats were less likely to have egg, wheat and soybean allergies, according to study results published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
“Our findings suggest that exposure to dogs and cats might be beneficial against the development of certain food allergies, thereby alleviating concerns about pet keeping and reducing the burden of food allergies,” the authors wrote.
The exact mechanism remains unclear, but pet exposure may strengthen an infant’s gut microbiota, either directly or indirectly through changes in the parent’s gut microbiota or home microbiome.
Looking at other household pets, there was no association between food allergies and exposure to birds and turtles, but children exposed to hamsters had a higher risk of nut allergies. It’s thought that nuts eaten by hamsters may sensitise infants through physical contact or house dust. Family hand washing and keeping hamsters away from babies might minimise the risk of nut allergy when hamsters are kept as pets.
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