During their research, study investigators sifted through data on 377,000 pre-schoolers and more than 270,000 school-age kids. The team was looking for a link between childhood exposure to pets and farm animals and later health benefits.
The team found that children who had dogs in their first year were less likely to develop asthma by the age of six than kids that had no pet dogs. The risk of asthma was reduced by 13 percent in the first group, researchers said.
Tove Fall, lead author of the study and researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden, noted that the newly found link is meaningful enough to conclude that children with family dogs have a lower risk of asthma by the age of six.
But the protective role of farm animals was even higher.
Researchers reported that kids who interacted with farm animals during their first 12 months had a 31 percent to 52 percent lower risk of developing asthma later on than their peers who were not exposed to the animals.
The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Study authors said that they had data on asthma diagnoses from their nation’s patient register. They also looked at the drugs doctors prescribed to these children.
Additionally, they were able to learn whether kids’ parents were registered dog owners when children were born or whether the latter had interactions with farm animals in the first year of life.
Nevertheless, study authors said that they do not know yet why pet dogs and farm animals may reduce asthma risk. The team suspects that it may have something to do with either exposure to dirt and dust or a prolonged time spent outdoors and more physical activity.
One of the researchers admitted that having a newborn and a baby it is nearly impossible to keep everything squeaky clean.
“[…] and maybe this is a good thing for your baby’s future health,”
the researcher added.
But the most popular theory among researchers is the high exposure to bacteria because kids with pets usually breathe in more bacteria coming from their pets than children with no household animals.
Past studies weren’t able to reach a consensus on dogs and asthma risk in small children. For instance, a 2001 study found that pets boosted asthma risk in children, while a 2012 research paper revealed that early exposure to dogs and other pets lowered that risk.
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