Having a family dog is great for children. Well, actually, it’s great for everyone in the home, but I’m a little biased. Growing up with a dog teaches children love, responsibility, respect and compassion. Often, a family dog is a child’s first friend. Now, one comprehensive study is proving that having a dog in the family can reduce a kid’s risk of asthma by 15 percent and regular contact with farm animals can cut the risk in half.
If you have kids, you can understand the “hygiene hypothesis,” which suggests that living in too-clean conditions early on in life can increase your susceptibility to certain allergy conditions like asthma. When you have a child it is hard to let him play in the dirt, crawl on a floor that hasn’t been properly sanitized, or watch him put anything into his mouth that you haven’t completely sterilized yourself. I’m a parent. I understand this.
The hygiene hypothesis suggests that overprotective parents who do not let their child get exposed to some of the most common dirt and germs aren’t doing their child any favors. If kids have a small amount of exposure to these germs and bacteria when they are young, their body learns to build a tolerance to them. It suggests that being exposed to these things early in life will help a child’s immune system develop to a stronger level.
Scientists working on a new Swedish study analyzed data on more than 1 million children between 2001 and 2010. All the children in the study were born in Sweden, where dog and farm animal ownership must be registered by law. The study found that canine exposure during the first year of life was associated with a 15 percent lower probability of developing childhood asthma. Living with regular exposure to farm animals cut the risk by 52 percent.
Dr. Tove Fall, the leading scientist on the study, says that earlier studies have also shown a similar link to farm animals and the reduced risk of asthma. He said that the researchers on this project were curious to see if the same correlation was true for children growing up with canines in their home. The results confirmed the farm animal effect and proved the effects of early exposure to canines to be positive as well.
Dr. Fall also says that because the researchers had such a large and detailed data set to work with, they were able to account for many confounding variables like area of residence, asthma in parents and socio-economic status. The research was made possible thanks to Sweden’s organized system of national databases that are accessible to scientists. Every prescription and specialist physician visit is recorded. The research for this study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The head researcher at Asthma UK, Erika Kennington, says:
“Asthma is a complex condition with many different types and causes. While this study identifies a link to living with a dog or regular exposure to farm animals in the first year of a child’s life, and their chance of developing asthma by the age of six, more research is needed. This will help us better understand the effects so that it can be turned into practical advice for parents of young children.”
Although the results of the study can only be generalized to the Swedish population, and possibly other European populations with similar cultural standards for pet ownership and farming, this study will hopefully pave the way for more research related to its findings. With the increase of feline and canine allergies and other respiratory diseases like asthma on the rise, it would be nice to find out if there is a correlation between the development of these conditions and the presence of animals in early years.