JAPAN - A new study shows that children who are exposed to indoor cats or dogs during fetal development and early infancy may be less likely to develop food allergies.
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers studied more than 66,000 children from Japan, for whom exposure to various pets and food allergies was available.
The researchers found that children exposed to pet cats or dogs during fetal development or early infancy tended to have fewer food allergies compared to other children in pet-free homes.
About 22% of children studied were exposed to pets during the fetal period (most commonly indoor dogs and cats). Among children exposed to indoor dogs and cats, there was a significantly reduced incidence risk of food allergies until three years old.
Batard dog and tabby cat, Felis catus, resting together indoors. (Photo by: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
In fact, dog exposure was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of egg, milk and nut allergies, while cat exposure was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of egg, wheat and soybean allergies.
In contrast, children exposed to hamsters had a significantly greater incidence risk of nut allergies. The researchers speculated that nuts that hamsters eat may sensitize infants through physical contact or house dust.
This means, the association between pet exposure and food allergies might differ depending on the pet species and causative food, according to the authors.
While the exact mechanism remains unknown, the team says that pet exposure may strengthen the infant’s gut microbiome directly or indirectly through changes in the parent’s or home microbiome.
The researchers noted that the data used in the study was self-reported, which relies on the accurate recall of participants. But, the authors suggest that these results can help guide future research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies.
Some previous studies have reported benefits of dog exposure during fetal development or early infancy on food allergies.
In one study, children with older siblings and those with a pet dog at home were less likely to develop egg allergy by one year of age. In another study, living with dogs was associated with a 90% reduction in the odds of infants developing food allergies.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.