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Pets Can Reduce the Risk of Food Allergies in Children and Keep Them Healthy



A new study suggests that having pets may also lower a child’s risk of food allergies, in addition to lowering the likelihood of respiratory allergies in children.

Japanese researchers discovered that children who lived with dogs were less likely to have allergies to eggs, milk, and nuts, and children who lived with cats were less likely to have allergies to eggs, wheat, and soybeans.

However, the first study author, Dr. Hisao Okabe, from the Fukushima Regional Center for the Japan Environment and Children’s Study and the Department of Pediatrics at Fukushima Medical University in Japan, noted that “pet exposure does not completely prevent food allergies.”

“All this study has shown is that it may reduce the risk of developing food allergies. In addition, the association between pet exposure and food allergies might differ, depending on the pet species and causative food,” Okabe added.

Okabe’s team looked at medical and self-reported data on over 66,000 Japanese infants for the study. They found that those who were exposed to indoor cats or dogs during pregnancy or early infancy had fewer food allergies, at least until the age of 3.

Around 22% of those newborn children were presented to these indoor pets. Children who were exposed to dogs outside did not differ significantly.

This study didn’t figure out why children with pets may have fewer food allergies, but Okabe said that previous studies have suggested it could be because of gut bacteria, endotoxins in the air, or through the skin barrier.

Okabe noted that the mothers who had pets at home were concerned about the risk of allergic disease being fueled by the pets, so the researchers decided to investigate this issue.

“In terms of food allergies, pet exposure during fetal and early infancy may be good in some cases,” Okabe said. “We hope that this message will help alleviate some of the concerns about pet ownership.”

On Wednesday, the results were made available online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Dr. Dean Mitchell, an allergist and immunologist in private practice at Mitchell Clinical Group in New York City, said he has seen a lot of studies throughout the years that have checked out pets and allergies.

Mitchell offered some additional theories regarding what might cause allergies in children, including the use of antibiotics during pregnancy or infancy, which he strongly believes could play a role. Another theory is that older siblings may be less susceptible to allergies as a result of being exposed to more viruses at a younger age.

However, when considering having a child, the most recent findings may not be sufficient to warrant purchasing a dog or cat.

“Every once in a while when these other studies pop up here and there, they’re for me … just too focused,” Mitchell said.

“I think the takeaway is, honestly, be very careful with the use of antibiotics. I know that’s not mentioned there,” he said. “I think the other stuff you can’t really control, and it’s just not really practical or I think well-proven.”

According to the study’s authors, exposure to farm animals during fetal development or infancy decreased the risk of food allergies in rural populations in South Africa.

According to the findings of the researchers, food allergies can have a negative impact on children and their families quality of life, result in significant expenditures for medical care, and pose the threat of anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can result in death.

The authors of the study went on to say that these findings may assist in directing subsequent research on food allergies.

Okabe stated, “We hope that the preventive mechanism of food allergy caused by pet exposure will be clarified, and that this will contribute to new food allergy prevention and treatment strategies.”

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