Objectives: Several studies have indicated that early pet keeping could protect the infant from later allergy development. Here, we investigate if there is a dose-dependent association between cat- and dog-keeping during the first year of life and subsequent allergy development.
Methods: Two cohorts were investigated: a cross-sectional questionnaire-based study of 7- to 8-year-old children (N = 1029) from Mölndal and Kiruna, and a birth-cohort of children from the Västra Götaland county clinically evaluated for asthma and allergy by paediatricians up to the age of 8-9 years (N = 249). The cross-sectional study asked validated questions on asthma and allergy that had been used in two previous studies of children from the same areas. In the birth-cohort study, a diagnosis of asthma and allergy was based on predefined clinical criteria, and laboratory evaluation included blood eosinophils, skin-prick tests and specific immunoglobulin E analyses. Information on pets during first year of life was collected retrospectively in the Cross-Sectional Cohort and prospectively in the Birth Cohort.
Results: A dose-response association was seen, with less allergic manifestations (any of asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, or eczema) with increasing number of household cats and dogs during the first year of life. In the Cross-Sectional Cohort, allergy ever decreased from 49% in those with no pets to zero in those with five or more pets (P-value for trend 0.038), and from 32% to zero for allergy last year (P-value for trend 0.006). The same pattern was seen in Birth Cohort. Sensitization to animals, as well as pollens, also decreased with increasing number of animals in the household.
Conclusion: The prevalence of allergic disease in children aged 7-9 years is reduced in a dose-dependent fashion with the number of household pets living with the child during their first year of life, suggesting a "mini-farm" effect, whereby cats and dogs protect against allergy development.