Are your kids begging you for a pet? Well, this might be a great time to get one. Sure, a dog or a cat can teach children about unconditional love, friendship and responsibility, but it may also help improve their health.
New research shows that children who have pets at an early age may have added protection from developing pet allergies later in life.
According to the medical journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, “children who are exposed to pets during infancy may be less likely to become allergic to dogs and cats.” The results of this 18-year study were published on Monday.
The NY Daily News reports that allergies to animals are more likely in kids who were born into pet-free homes:
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that babies younger than one who lived with pets were much less likely to develop sensitivity to animals than kids who got a family pet later in childhood.
The study followed 560 now-18-year-olds from birth since 1987. The children’s pet histories were tracked and their blood was tested for a specific antibody indicating sensitivity to pets. Boys and girls who lived with cats during infancy were both half as likely to be sensitive to them later.
What’s interesting is the gender difference. For boys, the risk was also cut in half if they lived with dogs. Yet for girls younger than one, exposure to dogs actually increased chances of becoming allergic to pets.
Furthermore, researchers say that putting kids and pets under the same roof at an early age increase a child’s immune system against various forms of bacteria, making it less likely to react to animal dander later in life.
Researchers said the latest study doesn’t prove that exposing infants to pets prevents allergies, but shows that more research is needed to determine allergy risk.
I was born into a home that had cats and dogs and lived with them my entire life, as have my kids. I couldn’t even consider our family without our pets. Do I think that they have helped my kids become less allergic? I don’t know. I do know that neither my daughters nor my son have allergies to pets.
I also know that what they have gained from taking care of our dogs and cats has been an invaluable lesson in love. Last November, we adopted a new puppy at North Shore Animal League. Our black lab mix, Django, has become one of the family and is laying next to me now as I type away (as she often does). Since we brought her home, it was instant love. Since then, the kids have happily (most of the time) fed, walked, and cleaned up after her.
Of course, no one should run out and bring home a pet simply because of any study, but hopefully this might help parents who are considering having a pet and a baby by showing them it can be done, and possibly even beneficial.
Did you have a pet when your baby was born?
Image: D. Sullivan