Pets and children

Angela Ford
Angela Ford

It has finally been proven, (although we have known this all along), that having pets is good for children. The benefits are many, and include teaching them about caring, empathy, and responsibility. Now it has been proven to reduce the rates of asthma.

Recent studies have emerged that suggest children who grow up with a dog or cat are less likely to develop allergies like asthma, than children without pets.

Children who had a dog in their first year of life were 13% less likely to develop asthma by the time they were six, and children growing up on farms with animals had a 50% reduction in their risk of asthma at school age.

Up until now, scientists have been unable to pinpoint exactly what the protective mechanism is, but have speculated it is related to the hygiene hypothesis. This hypothesis holds that our modern lifestyles are actually too sanitary and our immune systems aren’t being exposed to enough pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and parasites). Allergies & asthma are symptoms of hypersensitivity due to an over active immune response.

In a recent study, mice exposed to dog dust had much less inflammation in their airways and produced less mucus than control groups of mice. However, they found it was the bacteria living within the dust, specifically Lactobacillus johnsonii, that affected the immune response of the mice and their ability to fight off certain allergens.

Back in the old days we thought germs were our enemy. Now we know it is far more complex. It’s about how our immune systems react to pathogens and allergens, either fighting them off or accepting them as a normal part of our environment, and that some exposure, especially in early life is essential to create a better functioning immune system.

 

F_R_OtakiVetOtaki Veterinary Centre

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Angela Ford BVM&S MRCVS MACVSc
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