Good news for dog lovers. A new study shows exposure to dogs or farm animals at a young age is linked to a lower risk for childhood asthma at age 6.
In the study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at over 376,600 preschool age and over 276,200 school age students and found a possible benefit to being around animals early on.
Exposure to dogs (having a parent who was a registered dog owner) during the first year of life was linked to a 13% lower risk of asthma in school age children, and farm animal exposure was linked to a 52% lower risk for school age children and a 31% lower risk among preschool age kids.
The study did not determine why children with dogs or farm animal exposure appeared to be less likely to develop asthma. However, the researchers say their findings fall in line with the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that lack of exposure to germs and microbes during childhood could lead to more allergies, and that exposure can lead to a more favorable immune system.
Other research has linked living with pets or livestock to a lower allergy risk, which could have to do with the microbes in our guts that impact our ability to fight infection. "It has been shown that dog exposure is associated with altered bacterial flora in house dust and that mice exposed to such dust have alterations in their gut flora composition, as well as fewer allergic reactions," the study authors write.
"This information might be helpful in decision making for families and physicians on the appropriateness and timing of early animal exposure," the researchers conclude.