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Having Pets May Help Reduce Childhood Food Allergies, Study Says

New research is giving us yet another reason to thank our furry friends for all they do!
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated April 11, 2023
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Image: Diego Cervo | Shutterstock

Outside of sweet snuggles and unconditional love, did you know that having pets in your house could actually benefit your child’s health? Previous studies have shown positive associations between pet ownership and healthier children. Research shows that having pets in your home can reduce baby’s risk of obesity, help with emotional and cognitive development and much more. And now, new findings from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study add to the growing body of pet-positive evidence.

According to the research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, children exposed to pet cats or indoor dogs from pregnancy through age three had fewer food allergies compared to other children.

Specifically, data collected from 65,000 infants as a part of the study showed that dog exposure reduced the incidence risk of egg, milk and nut allergies, while cat exposure reduced the incidence risk of egg, wheat and soybean allergies. On the other hand, having a hamster in the house increased baby’s risk of nut allergy.

Although this study cannot determine a direct causative relationship between pet exposure and food allergy incidence, it does support the growing “hygiene hypothesis” that pet exposure can prevent allergies food and otherwise. Scientists also note that the data used in this study was self-reported and relied on the accurate recall of participants.

Despite these limitations, researchers remain confident that these findings can help guide future research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies and highlight the potential benefits of pet ownership for children’s health and well-being.

Before you jump at the idea of welcoming a pet into your family, remember that introductions and transitions can be difficult. If you are nervous, consult the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s guide on how to prepare your animal to meet baby and check out these tips for keeping your baby safe around pets.

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