ASTHMA
November 10, 2015

The Farm — And Dog — Effect

When kids grow up with dogs (and cows or sheep), their risk of asthma is reduced.

"Can we have a dog? Pleeeeeaaase!" Most parents without dogs in their households hear this refrain at some point in their kid’s childhood. There may be many reasons why you don’t want a dog, but there’s now one more good reason on the “pro” side of the list: Dogs can actually reduce the risk of asthma in kids who grow up with them.

“Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child's risk of asthma to about half,” said study author, Tove Fall, in a statement. “We wanted to see if this relationship also was true for children growing up with dogs in their homes.”

Children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. Kids whose parents had farm animals had even greater protection.

She and her team looked at data on 1 million kids in Sweden, where since 2001 the databases contain not only medical information on the population, but also whether a person is a registered dog owner or animal farmer. The team ran correlations to determine whether there was any connection between a parent being an animal owner and a child having asthma.

The Farming Effect

Kids whose parents had either farm animals or just dogs had a reduced risk of having asthma when they were six years old. Children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. “Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status,” said Fall. In other words, the results held true regardless of whether the parents had asthma; no matter where the children grew up, or how rich or poor they were.

The farming effect was even stronger. Children whose parents had farm animals were about 50% less likely to have asthma than kids of parents with no animals.

What's Behind The Findings

The connection may be the result of the extra workout the immune system gets from having a dog — one is exposed to pet dander and a variety of pathogens, which could strengthen the immune system from an early age.

Don't get a dog or cat to try to cure your child's asthma.

The authors point out that there’s probably more than one factor responsible for the connection — like the general attitude parents with pets have toward dirt and other exposures in general.

Children who have confirmed allergies or asthma probably won't benefit from getting a cat or dog to try to “cure”” it. And in many cases they need to stay away from certain types of animals that can trigger an asthmatic episode.

But if you’re a long-time pet owner and are about to have a child, chances are your pet or pets could actually help your child’s immune system as it develops. And the value of pets goes beyond physical heath. We all know how good pets are for our emotional and psychological health . That’s a benefit anyone can use, at any age.

The study was carried out at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

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