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Give baby a pet, help beat the allergy problem

April 12th, 2003, 10:13 PM
For years, doctors believed that the best way to prevent babies from developing allergies was to keep them away from cats and dogs. But according to a new study, having pets around a baby may reduce the risk of allergic sensitivity later life.

As reported in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tracked a group of nearly 500 healthy babies from birth to about age seven in the Detroit, Michigan area.

The children who lived with two or more dogs or cats during the first 12 months of life were nearly half as likely to develop allergies as were children with one pet or no pets.

The interesting finding was that the boost against allergies was wider than just to dander and fur. Children with pets suffered fewer allergies to triggers such as dust, grass and ragweed.

Researchers think that early exposure may prompt the immune system to produce protective antibodies without allergic reactions.

Dr. Dennis Ownby, the author of the study, says that just as the immune system can turn itself up to fight infection, it could be turning itself down to resist reacting to an onslaught of allergens.

This study is backed up by earlier research showing that children growing up on farms -- especially farms with animals -- were less likely to be allergic than were children growing up in urban environments.

The study also found that:

While multiple dogs or cats in the home reduced the risk of allergies for both boys and girls, boys benefited more than girls when it came to lung function, which could mean a reduced risk for asthma.

Children whose parents had allergies benefited more than those whose parents did not.