Western cultures report increasing rates of asthma and allergic disease, with pets sometimes implicated as a causal factor. An interesting research development in recent years however, has demonstrated the opposite may in fact be the case; the presence of cats and dogs in the home from an early age may actually ‘acclimatise’ the developing immune system so that it is less sensitive to allergens in later life. It appears that the presence of pets in the home has some regulatory or stabilising influence on the immune functioning of children.
- Using longitudinal studies of urban populations, researchers found that exposure to pets, especially dogs, in the perinatal period may reduce the development of allergic disease in children without a family history of allergy.1
- Gern et al published in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, that having a dog in infancy is associated with reduced allergic sensitisation and atopic dermatitis.2
- Dr June McNicholas from Warwick University UK found that children from pet owning families have less school absenteeism through illness, and are more likely to have normal levels of immune function than children from non-owning families.3 Dr McNicholas measured levels of salivary immunoglobulin A in children of pet owning and non-pet owning households. Salivary immunoglobulin A was selected because of its ease of collection and because it is regarded as an indicator of immune function. 'Health' was also measured in behavioural terms through percentage attendance at school. It was found that pet ownership was significantly associated with better attendance rates across all primary / junior classes at school in one Warwickshire school, but was especially evident in lower school classes (ages 5-8 years). Translated into school attendance, this difference was up to 18 half-days more school attendance for children aged 7-8 years. Examination of salivary immunologobulin A levels suggests that levels found in pet owning children were more likely to be within normal ranges at all times of testing than were those from non-pet owning children whose levels showed significantly more variability below and above normal range of function.
- Lodge, CJ, Allen, KJ, Lowe, AJ, Hill, DJ, Hosking, CS, Abramson, MJ, & Dharmage, SC, ‘Perinatal cat and dog exposure and the risk of asthma and allergy in the urban environment: : A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies,’ Clinical and Developmental Immunology, vol. 2012, Article ID 176484, 10 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/176484
- Gern, JE, Reardon, CL, Hoffjan, S, Nicolae, D, Li, Z, Roberg, KA, Neaville, WA, Carlson-Dakes, K, Adler, K, Hamilton, R, Anderson, E, Gilbertson- White, S, Tisler, C, Dasilva, D, Anklam, K, Mikus, LD, Rosenthal, LA, Ober, C, Gangnon, R, & Lemanske, RF. Jr.,2004, ‘Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy’ Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, vol. 113, no.2, pp. 307-14.
- McNicholas, J, ‘Benefi cial effects of pet ownership on child immune functioning’, 2004, International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations Conference, Glasgow.