A child’s exposure to cats either during fetal development (before being born via their mother) or early infancy (0-1 year describes an infant) reduces the risk of an allergy to egg, wheat and soybean according to a Japanese study published on the Plos One website March 29, 2023 (link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0282725). Exposure to dogs in a like manner has a similar advantage in reducing the risk of food allergies of egg, milk, and nut allergies. The nut allergy is well documented in news reports and has proved fatal on occasions.
Exposure to dogs or cats during fetal development or early infancy was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of food allergies until the age of 3 years
The scientists led by Hisao Okabe referred to an earlier study which I have seen on Google Scholar: Dog ownership at three months of age is associated with protection against food allergy (link: https://doi.org/10.1111/all.13868). In this study, dated 11 May 2019, they concluded “Dog ownership in infancy may prevent food allergy”.
In the more recent study, they wanted to explore the benefits of a reduction in risk to food allergies by exposure to pets other than dogs. I am pleased that they found the humble domestic cat has a role to play with the dog. The hamster increased sensitivity to foods, however: “However, hamster exposure was estimated to increase the incidence risk of nut allergy”.
This study was led by Hisao Okabe from the Fukushima Medical University. They looked at data which had already been collected by the Japan Environment and Children’s Study. This data concerned 66,215 children and their mothers.
In 22% of the cases children in the womb were exposed to indoor pets, mainly cats and dogs. It should be noted that this is self-reported information. The scientists say that the research does not prove a causative link between exposure to cats and dogs and a reduction in food allergies as stated.
I have seen and read several studies like this one. The results are always the same namely there is a real benefit in contact between infants and cats and dogs in terms of reducing the risk of allergies. At one time it was believed that contact with cats caused allergies.
However, parents or parents to be shouldn’t adopt a cat or dog for the sole reason of reducing the risk of food allergies for their child. That perhaps goes without saying but adopting a cat or dog is a very big commitment and responsibility for the lifetime of the companion animal. There are many considerations, an important one of which is budgeting. Having children is expensive and so is looking after a companion animal.
There is also the issue of parents training their infants to interact with cats and dogs responsibly. And finally, there is always the critically important responsibility of parents to ensure that the dog companion is not a danger to their infant child. There have been incidents of dogs killing infants.
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