Before you rush out to the RSPCA to adopt a dog and put him on permanent preventative medicine duty next to your child, the story is not quite that simple. A recent study conducted in Sweden has found that having a dog around in the first year of life is linked to a 13% lower risk of developing asthma in later childhood years. And this was not some tiny random study performed in someone’s basement, there were over 650,000 children who participated in the study.
Despite the size of the study, as with all research findings it is important to take them with a grain of salt and not jump to conclusions. Although the study supports the notion that being exposed to dogs (and pets in general) can potentially bolster the immune system and prevent allergies from developing, more evidence is required before a stronger statement can be made. And of course, where our children’s health is concerned, we need some strong evidence before we jump out and make decisions.
Conventional medical wisdom up to now has always assumed that pets bring about allergic reactions as opposed to prevent them. This does make logical sense, as loose animal fur is a known allergen, and we all know pets shed fur to greater or lesser degrees. According to Allergy UK, a charity organisation in the United Kingdom, over half of all children with asthma are allergic to cats, with slightly less (40%) being allergic to dogs. And it is not just furry fluffy pets, even short-haired non-shedding animals can leave a trail of fur and animal dander.
Contravening this conventional idea is the study we are talking about today. The findings suggest that being exposed to a dog during infancy may actually be a health benefit. Children who grew up with a pet dog around were significantly less likely to develop asthma by the age of seven than children who grew up without dogs. Growing up around lots of animals on a farm seemed to be even more beneficial, with the risk of asthma developing cut in half. It seems you get more than just endless supplies of beautiful eggs and butter and bread when you live on a farm!