Werner Braun: Living with pets may reduce allergies

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:50 pm | Updated: 1:17 am, Sat Oct 18, 2014.

The carpet industry is often accused of producing a product that causes or worsens allergies, and I’ve written many a column debunking that “logical fallacy” because there’s absolutely no truth to it.

But another “allergy” myth pops up from time to time that I find particularly interesting, as I am a pet owner myself.

Many people erroneously believe that not having a pet in their home when their child is brought home from the hospital may protect the child from developing pet allergies later on.

But a recent study suggests that the opposite is actually true. That it’s actually the case that children who begin life as infants, living side by side with their family’s cats and dogs, are less likely to become allergic to those types of pets later on.

Go figure.

This study, which has appeared in the Clinical and Experimental Allergy journal, suggests that infants growing up in homes with cats were half as likely to develop allergies to cats later on in life.

For dogs, the results were about the same as cats for infant boys, but not for infant girls, a puzzling finding for the researchers.

The researchers had taken a look at nearly 600 children, interviewing their parents about their children’s exposure to indoor pets and their history of allergies, and when those children turned 18, they analyzed their blood samples and tested them for antibodies that defend against pet allergens.

Their findings suggested that children whose first repeated exposure to cats or dogs came after their first birthday did not have the same high percentage of protection from pet allergens as did those who played with Fido or Lucy from day one.

And they also suggested that it’s actually a good thing to be exposed to certain types of dirt, pet-related bacteria and pet allergens at a young age so that the body can build up its own natural immunity. Years ago, our pediatrician in Midland, Mich., told my wife on more than one occasion that “the kids need to eat a pound of dirt before age 2.” Now I’m not suggesting that we feed our children dirt but our pediatrician was making a point. Exposure to potential allergens early in life may reduce allergies later in life.

Living with a pet allergy is certainly frustrating, but if the allergy is not life threatening and the family wants to keep a pet, there are some helpful tips to make living with that cat or dog easier for all concerned.

The Humane Society provides many useful recommendations, such as creating an “allergy-free” zone in the home where animals are not allowed to go, as for example, in the allergic person’s bedroom. They also suggest using HEPA air cleaners throughout the rest of the home and bathing the pet on a regular basis.

The Humane Society cautions against assuming that the cause of the allergy is pet related and recommends medical testing to determine just what the family member may be allergic to, as the culprit is not always clear.

In any case, it’s interesting to debunk yet another common myth, one that has likely prevented many people from enjoying the company of a cat or dog for fear that their offspring may develop allergies as a result. It’s most likely that just the opposite is true.

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.