Research at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has shown that babies exposed to dogs are less likely to develop allergic diseases.
A beloved cat or dog is as much a part of the family as many kids as Mom, Dad, brother, or sister.
But for others, a furry pet means wheezing, eczema, rhinitis, or other allergic reactions.
At first, it would seem logical to keep children at risk for allergies away from household pets.
But an investigation conducted at the UW Department of Pediatrics found the opposite true.
Exposure to dogs in infancy—especially around birth—can influence children’s immune development and reduce the likelihood of certain allergic diseases.
NEWBORN EXPOSURE IS THE KEY
The research study, led by Department of Pediatrics Professors Robert Lemanske, MD, and James Gern, MD, evaluated 275 children who had at least one parent with respiratory allergies or asthma.
Each year for three years, investigators asked whether the family had a dog at home, whether the children had symptoms of atopic dermatitis (AD; a type of eczema) and wheezing, and checked for immune responses in the children’s blood.
Children who had a dog at home as newborns were much less likely to have AD (12% versus 27%) and wheezing (19% versus 36%) by their third birthday.
Early exposure, it seems, is the key—children who got a dog after birth did not seem to have the same health benefits.
INFLUENCING IMMUNE DEVELOPMENT
The reasons for this further merit exploration.
Investigators think that exposure to dogs may contribute to a critical step in a child’s rapidly developing immune system—an action that may occur shortly after birth.
Will future research shed light, so to speak, on this immunologic mechanism? UW researchers hope so.
A better understanding of the process could lead to better allergy prevention strategies for children.
And that would help parents breathe more easily, too.