Pets: Do They Reduce the Risk for Allergies in Children?

If allergies run in your family, you may be looking for ways to reduce your children’s (or future children’s) risk for developing allergies. One area that often comes up is whether or not exposure to pets reduces or increases this risk for allergies and allergic disease. The relationship between allergies and exposure to animals is complicated and still not fully understood. While it used to be thought that early exposure to animals might increase the chance for developing allergies and allergic diseases, more recent evidence suggests it has no effect or might actually help prevent it. In today’s post, we’ll highlight some of the recent research on the topic.

  •  A 2011 study found that children who lived in homes with cats during their first year of life had a reduced risk for being allergic to cats in adulthood[1].
  • A large 2012 study found that being around pets (cats, dogs, birds, and/or rodents) did not increase nor decrease the risk for developing allergies and allergic diseases[2].
  • A 2012 study found that early infant exposure to cats or dogs either decreased or had no effect on allergic disease in most children up to age 12[3]. However, the authors did note that if the father has an allergy to cats, the child may have an increased risk of developing allergies or allergic disease if a cat is kept inside the home.  
  • A 2013 study found that early exposure to dogs might reduce the risk for developing atopic dermatitis. No increased or decreased risk was found with early exposure to cats[4]

The evidence is still not strong enough to suggest that you should get a pet for the sole purpose of preventing your children from developing allergies. However, the good news is that if you have a pet already or are planning to get one, research shows that exposure to pets does not increase your little’s one’s risk for developing allergies. It might have no effect or it might help reduce the risk slightly. However, if you or your spouse has an allergy to a specific animal, it’s best not to keep that type of animal inside the home (for both the parent and child’s sake).

–Mallory West

[1] Wegienka G, et al “Lifetime dog and cat exposure and dog- and cat-specific sensitization at age 18 years” Clin Exp Allergy 2011;41(7):979-986.

[2] Lødrup Carlsen KC, et al. Does pet ownership in infancy lead to asthma or allergy at school age? Pooled analysis of individual participant data from 11 European birth cohorts. PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43214.

[3] Lodge CJ, et al. Pets at birth do not increase allergic disease in at-risk children. Clin Exp Allergy. 2012 Sep;42(9):1377-85.

[4] Pelucchi C, et al. Pet exposure and risk of atopic dermatitis at the pediatric age: A meta-analysis of birth cohort studies. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Sep;132(3):616-622.e7.

Published: 10/17/2013
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