Puppies may protect against allergies

Sloane Miller Health Guide
  • Did you see this headline from London's The Times? "Why puppy love can give your children a healthy start in life." Health Central also linked to the story stateside.

    The article says that based on a longitudinal study conducted over 6 six years and with 9,000 participants, children who grew up with dogs in their household (not merely visiting doggies outside of the home) were less allergic: "Children run less risk of being sensitive to allergens if there is a dog in the house in the early years of their lives, scientists have found."

    Their data seems to support the "hygiene theory" that has been bouncing around the last few years in an effort to explain why so many children have developed such severe allergies in the last 10 or so years. To remind you, the hygiene theory postulates, "... that modern life has simply become too clean, meaning that babies' immune systems are not exposed to enough germs to develop normally."

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    My German Shorthaired Pointer (Briefly)

    My grandparents bought a German Shorthaired Pointer when I was about four or five. We all went together to the house where her mother, called Eighty because her back sported an naturally occurring formation of an 8 and an 0, had just given birth to her litter. I remember being in the back seat of the car after picking out the puppy, sneezing, wheezing and rubbing my eyes. My grandparents kept the dog at their house, in a doghouse in the yard. Penny rarely came indoors and she was scared of guns and of pointing. They gave the dog away soon after because of my allergies and her lack of inherited gifts.

    Certainly, visiting Penny at my grandparent's house didn't make me less allergic. In fact, it was because of this dog that my parents discovered I was allergic to dogs. My experience seems consistent with the findings of this German study. "...[I]t may be important that baby meets dog early enough to affect the immune system as it develops. ‘Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during subjects' infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitization to pollens and inhaled allergen'."

    Having a dog provides enough dirt of the right kind, the new German study suggests. But it may be important that baby meets dog early enough to affect the immune system as it develops. " ‘Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during subjects' infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitization to pollens and inhaled allergens,' said Joachim Heinrich of the National Research Centre for Environmental Health in Munich. ‘The same protective effect was not seen in children who had frequent contact with dogs but none at home'."

    Pets as allergy prevention?
    According to the findings of this study, Penny the puppy was introduced to my already over taxed immune system too late to do any real allergy-busting good. Does that mean if you are planning on having kids you should get yourself a puppy to help them fight off allergies?


    Dr. Heinrich does not recommend that parents get a puppy. "Until we understand the mechanisms underlying this protective effect from dogs, we will not be able to draw any further conclusions or make any recommendations." Dr. Guy Marks of the Institute for Respiratory Medicine in New South Wales, concluded in 2002 that parents should neither be advised to rid their homes of pets, nor acquire them as a prevention against asthma. Further research, he said, was needed.

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    See also:

     

    Allergies and Pets -- Don't Bring Home A Pet For Your Allergic Child

     

    Do pets protect children from developing asthma?

Published On: May 21, 2008