Pets May Protect Children From Allergies
WebMD News Archive
Speaking at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Cole
warned that this protection did not seem to extend to asthma: Approximately 10%
of the children in their study developed that condition.
At the same conference, allergist Richard F. Lockey, MD, reported on a
41-year-old man with asthma who experienced two severe allergic reactions, one
nearly fatal, while washing his pet ferret. He also developed hives on his
abdomen when the animal touched his skin. Lockey and his colleagues at the
University of South Florida and the VA Hospital in Tampa, Fla., found that
extracts of ferret hair and urine elicited positive test responses from people
known to have multiple allergies, including allergies to cats and dogs.
Lockey suggested that the current proliferation of pets could be
contributing to the rapid growth in asthma and allergies seen in the past few
years. He cited evidence that some people are even allergic to gerbils and
guinea pigs, as well as dogs, cats -- and, apparently, ferrets. However, he
concedes that most people resist recommendations to get rid of their pets and
may not even think of their pets as animals.
"When you ask someone if they have an animal in the home, very often
they'll say no, but if you ask if they have a dog or a cat, they say yes,"
But a growing number of clinicians now believe that blanket recommendations
may be premature. "We must re-examine standards saying pets in the house
are a risk factor for children," says Dennis Ownby, MD, professor of
pediatrics and medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. Ownby, a
co-investigator on the study of the protective effect of pets, tells WebMD,
"Something about having a pet is associated with a lower risk of allergy.
It is time to rethink our recommendations telling people to get rid of their
pets." So Fluffy and Fido -- and perhaps their youngest masters -- can
breathe easy for now.
- There has been a controversy among allergy specialists as to how pets
influence childhood allergies, but new evidence shows that pet ownership in
early childhood may have a protective effect against developing pet
- In a study of more than 700 children, those who lived with a cat or a dog
since the first year of their life were less likely to show indicators for
allergy, and this effect was even more pronounced in first-born children.
- Researchers caution that this protective effect may not extend to asthma,
and owning a pet may cause severe asthma attacks in some people.