Background: The association between pet ownership in childhood and subsequent allergic disease is controversial. Bias related to selection of pet exposure has been suggested as a reason for contradictory study results.
Objective: The purpose of this investigation was to elucidate how pet exposure depends on family history of allergic disease, smoking, and socioeconomic factors in a prospective birth cohort.
Methods: Parents of 4089 two-month-old children answered a questionnaire that included detailed questions about family history of asthma (maternal, paternal, and sibling), rhinoconjunctivitis, atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome, pollen and pet allergy, smoking habits, parental occupation, and family pet ownership (cat and dog). Dust samples collected from the mothers' beds were analyzed for Fel d 1 and Can f 1 in a subgroup of the cohort.
Results: Cats were less frequently kept in families with parental asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, or pet or pollen allergy (3.5% to 5.8%) than in families without parental allergic disease (10.8% to 11.8%). Dogs were less common in families with (3.3%) than in families without (5.9%) parental atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome. Families with smoking mothers and those with low socioeconomic index kept cats and dogs more frequently. Cat allergen levels were lower in homes with than in homes without maternal pet allergy, and this tended to hold true even for homes without a cat. Cat ownership decreased from birth to 2 years of age, especially in families with parental history of allergic diseases.
Conclusion: There seems to be a selection of pet exposure based on parental history of allergy, maternal smoking, and socioeconomic factors. This has to be taken into consideration in evaluations of risk associations between pet exposure and allergic disease in childhood.