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Pets Boost Your Child's Immune System…And A Whole Lot More

By Danielle Sullivan |

pets allergies, pets children allergies, children pets immune system, family pet, children health

Maybe our puppy is also improving my kids' long-term health.

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


Read Danielle’s blog Just Write Mom.

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About Danielle Sullivan


Danielle Sullivan

Danielle Sullivan writes for Babble Pets. She is also an award-winning parenting writer, who authors a monthly column for NY Parenting and ASPCA Parents blog. You can read more of her work at her blog,Some Puppy To Love. Read bio and latest posts → Read Danielle's latest posts →

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4 thoughts on “Pets Boost Your Child's Immune System…And A Whole Lot More

  1. Meagan says:

    Well I hope this is true, but I have to wonder if they controlled for parental allergies. I didn’t have pets when I was very young because my dad was allergic, but got a cat when I was six after lots of begging. I developed an allergy, but that’s no surprise given my dad. Now my husband and I are both allergic to cats, but have two anyway. So will our baby grow up not allergic? I hope so.

  2. Danielle Sullivan says:

    @ Meagan I hope so too! How do you and your husband control your allergies with your cats?

  3. goddess says:

    Nope. Thankfully, my husband and I both can’t tolerate the idea of indoor dogs or cats living with us. We have a few birds now though.

  4. Bunnytwenty says:

    I had parakeets as a kid, and I’m allergic to feathers. I didn’t have a cat or a dog, and I’m not allergic to either. Go figure.

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