Many parents think that having a pet in the house while their kids are still babies is a bad idea for numerous reasons: safety, sanitation, or simply extra responsibility. A new study suggests an unexpected benefit: that household pets may combat allergies if children are exposed to the animals in their first year of life.
More than five hundred children were followed from birth until eighteen years of age for the Detroit Allergy Study. Children who had pets in the home during the small window of birth to age one had a lower risk of allergies when they got older. Specifically, boys were less sensitive to dogs in later years if there was a dog in the house while they were babies. Both girls and boys who had cats were also less sensitive to cats as older children if there was a feline present during the first year.
Additionally, it has been suggested that children delivered by C-section would benefit greatly from a pet during this time period, perhaps because they are not exposed to the same bacteria as children delivered naturally.
This is not the first study done on the subject, and not all researchers agree with its findings. In fact, some are in disagreement of any positive benefits, stating more research is necessary. For one thing, it is difficult to study allergies and small children in a controlled setting, as it would be unethical to remove the pet or the child from their homes for a year.
Although the debate still rages over whether household pets truly lower the risk of allergies for babies if they are exposed during the first year, there doesn’t appear to be a strong reason against pet ownership during infancy, as long as it is a child-friendly breed.