Exposure To Pets In The First Year Of Life May Reduce Risk Of Allergies

The relationship between exposure to pets and allergic disease risk has long been unresolved. Various studies in recent years have examined the effect of early exposure to cats and dogs on allergies in children. The results, however, have been conflicting, with some showing a benefit from having a pet, while others indicated that it may actually make children more prone to developing allergies.

The focus of the study was to evaluate the association between lifetime dog and cat exposure and allergic sensitization to the specific animal at 18 years of age. Researchers collected information from 566 children and their parents about the childrens’ exposure to indoor pets, and their history of allergies.

A study published online ahead of print in the journal “Clinical & Experimental Allergy”, however, suggests that having a pet in the house during the first year of a child’s life could halve the risk of them becoming allergic to animals [“Lifetime Dog and Cat Exposure and Dog- and Cat-Specific Sensitization at Age 18 Years.” Wegienka et al, 2011: 41(7)979-986.]

They followed the children from birth to 18 years old and found that exposure to a cat in the first year of life was associated with a halved risk of having an immune system that was sensitized to cat allergens. The findings for dogs were more complicated, however, and a link between exposure and reduced risk of sensitization later on was found in boys only.

The results of this study now suggest that researchers should further study the first year of life, since this may be the critical window during childhood when indoor exposure to pets may influence sensitization to them.

“This research provides further evidence that experiences in the first year of life are associated with health status later in life, and that early life pet exposure does not put most children at risk of being sensitized to these animals later in life,” said first author Ganesa Wegienka.


  1. hmmm… been with pets all my life… maybe my allergies would be worse… of course I live in San Diego which is at the top of many lists for allergens.What about cats and their allergies… my MzTiz throws up with certain brands.

  2. Anne, yes, cats (and dogs) can certainly develop their own allergies too, including food allergies. Maybe I'll have to cover that aspect of things at some point here. "MzTiz" – love the name!