Background: Whether pet-keeping early in life protects against or promotes allergy remains unclear.
Objective: Our aim was to examine the effects of childhood pet-keeping on adult allergic disease in a large international population-based study, including information on sensitization, adult pet-keeping, and pet prevalence in the populations.
Methods: We used information from structured interviews (n = 18,530) and specific IgE to common aeroallergens in blood samples (n = 13,932) from participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS) to analyze the associations between keeping pets and adult asthma and hay fever.
Results: Keeping cats in childhood was associated with asthma only among atopic subjects, an association that varied between centers (P =.002) and was stronger where cats where less common (< 40% cats: odds ratio(wheeze) [OR(wheeze)] = 1.84, 95% CI = 1.31-2.57; 40%-60% cats: OR(wheeze) = 1.33, 95% CI = 1.10-1.61; > or =60% cats: OR(wheeze) = 0.98, 95% CI = 0.73-1.33). Dogs owned in childhood or adulthood were associated with asthma among nonatopic subjects (childhood: OR(wheeze) = 1.28, 95% CI = 1.13-1.46; adulthood: OR(wheeze) = 1.31, 95% CI = 1.14-1.51; both: OR(wheeze) = 1.69, 95% CI = 1.40-2.04). In atopic subjects, those who had owned dogs in childhood had less hay fever (OR = 0.85; 95% CI = 0.73-0.98) and no increased risk of asthma (OR(wheeze) = 1.01, 95% CI = 0.87-1.17). Respiratory symptoms were more common in subjects who had owned birds during childhood (OR(wheeze) = 1.12; 95% CI = 1.02-1.23) independent of sensitization.
Conclusions: The effects of pet-keeping in childhood varied according to the type of pet, the allergic sensitization of the individual, and the wider environmental exposure to allergen. Cats owned in childhood were associated with more asthma in sensitized adults who grew up in areas with a low community prevalence of cats. Dogs owned in childhood seemed to protect against adult allergic disease but promote nonallergic asthma.