Background: Influence of household pets in the development of childhood asthma or atopy has been controversial.
Objective: The purpose of this study was to investigate whether pet exposure in early life decreases the subsequent risk of frequent wheezing and/or allergic sensitization.
Methods: This was a prospective observational birth cohort study. The setting was a large health maintenance organization in Tucson, Ariz; the subjects were a population sample of 1246 newborns enrolled at birth and followed prospectively to age 13 years. The main outcome measures were as follows: time to first report of frequent wheezing (>3 episodes in the past year), skin prick test reactivity at 6 years and 11 years of age, and total serum IgE at 9 months, 6 years, and 11 years of age.
Results: Children living in households with > or =1 indoor dogs at birth were less likely to develop frequent wheeze than those not having indoor dogs (P =.004). This inverse association was confined to children without parental asthma (hazard ratio = 0.47; P <.001 [Cox regression]) and was not evident for children with parental asthma (hazard ratio = 0.96; P =.87). Adjustment by potential confounders did not change the results. Indoor cat exposure was not significantly associated with the risk of frequent wheezing. Neither cat exposure in early life nor dog exposure in early life was associated with skin prick test reactivity or total serum IgE at any age.
Conclusion: Dog exposure in early life might prevent the development of asthma-like symptoms, at least in low-risk children with no family history of asthma. Nevertheless, early pet exposure does not seem to significantly influence the development of allergic sensitization.