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Indoor pets reduce the risk of food allergies in children 

In many high-income countries, over one in ten children are diagnosed with food allergies, with the incidence of such allergies continuing to rise at an alarming rate. However, according to a recent study published in the journal PLoS ONE, children exposed to pet cats or indoor dogs during fetal development and early infancy tend to have fewer food allergies in comparison to other children.

The scientists used data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS) – a nationwide, prospective birth cohort – to investigate the associations between exposure to various types of pets during fetal development and early infancy and the incidence of food allergies in 66,215 children for whom such data was available. Among the participants, approximately 22 percent were exposed to indoor cats and dogs in their early years and, in some cases, even before birth. 

The analysis revealed a significantly reduced incidence of food allergies among children exposed to indoor pets, but no significant difference in the case of those growing in households with outdoor dogs. Moreover, different pet species seemed to reduce the incidence of allergies to different types of foods. For example, children exposed to indoor dogs were less likely to experience egg, milk, and nut allergies, while those exposed to cats were less likely to develop egg, wheat, and soybean allergies. Surprisingly though, children exposed to hamsters (0.9 percent of the cohort) had a significantly greater incidence of nut allergies.

Although the study had several limitations – including the use of self-reported data relying on the accurate recall of participants, and the impossibility to determine whether the association between pet exposure and food allergy incidence was causative or merely correlational – these findings suggest that exposure to pets may be extremely beneficial to children, leading to better health outcomes. However, further research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies and how they are influenced by exposure to pets is needed.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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