A blog by spcaLA president, Madeline Bernstein

Jun 13, 2011

Exposing Infants to Pets May Reduce Allergies

Allergies to pets are often cited as the reason that pets are returned to shelters or prohibited from the home in the first place. Though people develop allergic reactions to the pet's saliva or dander, other allergens such as dust, pollen, or mold will lodge in the pet's coat thereby exacerbating other allergies not specific to the pet. Despite this, 70% of American households have a dog or cat and 10 million people suffer from pet allergies. Clearly, pets are either banned or borne. google images

A study, published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, followed 566 boys and girls from Detroit from birth to age 18, and monitored their allergic sensitivity throughout their lifetime exposure to dogs and cats. The findings suggested that infants younger than one year who lived with pets were less likely to develop allergies than children who acquired them later in life.  Specifically, boys and girls exposed to cats during infancy were 50% less likely to be allergic to them later, and the same was true of boys and dogs. Oddly, this was not found to be true with girls and dogs. Even odder, was the finding that boys and girls born via cesarean-section were 67% less likely to be sensitive to dogs than those with dogs during the first year of their life! All of this notwithstanding, these conclusions seem to debunk the long held notion that exposing a baby to a pet could trigger an allergic reaction and render the children more susceptible to allergies in later years.

Ganesa Wegienka, PhD, of the Department of Biostatistics and Research Epidemiology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit said:  “This research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life, and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitized to these animals later in life.”

However, if allergies are a problem there are some things that can be done to make the afflicted more comfortable such as washing the pet frequently, eliminating carpets, using HEPA air filters, vacuuming frequently, and not allowing the pet to sleep with the sufferer.

Finally, there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. All dogs have saliva and skin. This "magical fix" received national attention when President Obama, rejected the idea of adopting a shelter dog in favor of an "allergy free" pure bred portuguese water dog as one of his daughters suffered from allergies. Some dog breeds simply shed less hair and dander but will activate allergy or asthma attacks in the susceptible. Such dog breeds include some terriers, poodles, schnauzers, water dogs, malteses and spaniels. Light colored female cats produce less allergen as well as some breeds such as the long haired siamese, the oriental short hair and some hairless cats. 

Many of these animals can be found in shelters and rescue groups at affordable prices providing relief for the homeless pet and the allergy sufferer.

Article first published as Exposing Infants to Pets May Reduce Allergies on Technorati.

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