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Prevention of Allergies in Kids: Get a Pet… or, Better Yet, Three

Growing up with pets can help reduce allergic disorders in children. And the more pets in a house, the lower the risk that the child will develop asthma, eczema or hay fever later in life, a Swedish study has found.

Researchers in Sweden found a dose-dependent relationship between the number of cats and dogs the child lived with in the first year of life and decreasing the risk of developing allergies later on.

The study, published in PLOS One, analyzed two groups of children aged 7 to 8 years old and 8 to 9 years old. The latter group was followed from birth. In both groups, results displayed the same tendency – growing up with multiple pets could increase allergy protection in children later in life.

The more pets, the more protection against immune-related disorders.

In a bigger group of 1,029 children, about half of kids in families with no pets had allergy symptoms by ages 7-9. The occurrence of allergies fell to 43 percent in kids who lived with one pet and to 24 percent in kids who lived with three pets. Two families had five pets, and their children had no allergies.

In the second group of 249 children, the allergy rate was 48 percent for children growing up in a house with no pets, 35 percent for children with one pet and 21 percent for children who lived with multiple pets as a baby.

THE HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS. Growing up around pets may result in long-term health protection for the kids. Children’s immune system grows stronger from being around the microbes and dirt that dogs and cats carry in their fur. Exposure to these germs early in childhood leads to the development of the healthy microbiota – the community of “healthy” and “unhealthy” microbes that live in harmony inside the body.

Imbalance of these microorganisms – especially those that live in the gut – during the first year of life is linked to the development of allergic diseases. Living in ultra-sanitized environment proved to increase the risk of autoimmune disorders – asthma, hay fever, various allergies, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Without being exposed to “good” and “bad” germs as we grow up, our immune system doesn’t learn how to properly recognize the harmful invaders from helpful and instead, it starts attacking itself.

Allergies have been on the rise for the last 50 years and scientists are not entirely sure why. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce allergy risk in children and having pets is one of the protective factors.

Some other preventive measures include having other siblings, being outdoors in early life and growing up on the farm with livestock.

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