Pets can protect unborn children from food allergies

Pets might protect the unborn child from food allergies. If a pregnant mother adopts a cat or dog, she might be able to reduce the risk of their child developing a food allergy by 13% to 16%. This is the conclusion of a study which was conducted in Japan and published in late March 2023 on the Plos One website.

Pregnant mother with cat and dog
Pregnant mother with cat and dog. The image is free to use as it is copyright-free.
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RELATED: Can cats make eczema worse for children or increase the chance of getting it?

The mother might adopt a dog or cat after her child is born with the same potential benefits. The conclusion from the researchers led by Hisao Okabe was that “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. Dog exposure was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of egg, milk, and nut allergies, and cat exposure was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of egg, wheat, and soybean allergies. “

Interestingly, they found that exposure to hamsters “was estimated to increase the incidence of risk of nut allergy”. The outcome depends upon the pet but as most pets are cats and dogs and as these two species of companion animal often import benefits to the welfare of a newborn child and until the age of three years, it is another reason for a fledgling family to adopt a cat or dog.

The study was conducted by the researchers having access to pet exposure and food allergy from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study. This is a nationwide study of 97,413 mothers and their children.

The conclusion helps to clarify an ongoing question which perhaps has now been answered as to whether exposure to pets makes a child more robust in terms of their immune response to allergens or it makes them more sensitive. It appears that the former is the case. It appears that exposure to cats and dogs even in the womb desensitises the child’s immune response making them more robust when exposed to allergens.

More work is required on this and I know it’s ongoing in various countries because in the discussion section of the report on the study, the researchers say that “Our findings suggest that exposure to dogs and cats might be beneficial against the development of certain food allergies.”

There’s some caution there. They caution that is not present in the abstract i.e. the summary of the study. The protection from allergens depends upon the pet species and allergen type.

This was a questionnaire-based survey. They did not “perform an objective assessment”. Questionnaire surveys are obviously based upon subjective assessments by often unqualified people in respect of the topic being assessed.

Sometimes the assessments are subjective which obviously weakens the conclusion. That’s why the researchers recommend that “further studies using oral food challenges are required to more accurately assess the incident of food allergies”.

Search of internet on this topic using Google Gemini

There are a couple of interesting studies that suggest exposure to cats and dogs in early life can benefit a child’s developing immune system:

  • Reduced Food Allergy Risk: A study published in PLOS One examined data on over 65,000 children in Japan. It found that children exposed to cats or dogs during fetal development and infancy had a 13% to 16% lower risk of developing food allergies compared to those with no pet exposure. Note: this is the research that I have referred to above. It is clearly an important study on this topic.
  • Lower Allergic Sensitization: Another study looked at teenagers and their lifetime exposure to cats and dogs. It found that teenagers who lived with a cat during their first year had a 48% lower risk of developing a cat allergy compared to those without early exposure.

These studies suggest that exposure to furry companions early in life might “train” the immune system to be less reactive to allergens. It’s important to note that research in this area is ongoing, and other factors like a child’s genetics can also play a role in allergies.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • The type of allergy may be affected: The studies mentioned above suggest some variations in how cats and dogs might influence specific allergies.
  • Parental allergies can be a factor: Some studies suggest that if a parent has allergies, early pet exposure might not have the same protective effect for their children.

Overall, the research suggests a potential benefit for children’s immune systems when exposed to cats and dogs early in life. If you’re considering getting a pet and have concerns about allergies, it might be helpful to talk to your doctor about your specific situation.

RELATED: Increase in human allergies inc. asthma – reason? – children allergic to cats – spread of cat/dog allergen – environment – lifestyle

Update

There is a convenient update today in The Times newspaper to my article. The headline is, “Feeding babies peanuts could prevent seven in ten allergies”.

The article starts off by saying: “Feeding children peanuts from an early age can protect them from peanut allergies throughout childhood, research has found.”

It’s the same sort of thing. It’s desensitising children to allergens so that their immune system is better able to cope with these allergens throughout their lives.

In this instance, their diet included regular doses of peanuts from weaning until the age of five which reduced the rate of peanut allergy in adolescents by 71%. This suggested that 100,000 cases of peanut allergies could be prevented globally, annually.

Peanut

Unfortunately, peanut allergies are quite common in young children. Studies suggest around 2% (or 1 in 50) children are affected [allergyuk.org]. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Age of Onset: Most peanut allergies develop in early childhood, by age 1 [uhs.nhs.uk]. There can be rare cases of later development.
  • Severity: Reactions can range from mild (skin irritation) to severe (anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition) [kidshealth.org].
  • Persistence: Unlike some allergies, peanut allergies tend to be lifelong. Only about 20% of children outgrow them, typically by age 10 [allergyuk.org].

If you’re concerned about your child:

  • Talk to your doctor if you suspect a peanut allergy, especially if your child has eczema or an egg allergy (which can increase the risk) [rch.org.au].
  • Early diagnosis and an action plan (including an epinephrine auto-injector for severe reactions) are crucial.

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