Background: Studies examining associations of early-life cat and dog ownership with childhood asthma have reported inconsistent results. Several factors could explain these inconsistencies, including type of pet, timing, and degree of exposure.
Objective: Our aim was to study associations of early-life cat and dog ownership with asthma in school-aged children, including the role of type (cat vs dog), timing (never, prenatal, or early childhood), and degree of ownership (number of pets owned), and the role of allergic sensitization.
Methods: We used harmonized data from 77,434 mother-child dyads from 9 birth cohorts in the European Union Child Cohort Network when the child was 5 to 11 years old. Associations were examined through the DataSHIELD platform by using adjusted logistic regression models, which were fitted separately for each cohort and combined by using random effects meta-analysis.
Results: The prevalence of early-life cat and dog ownership ranged from 12% to 45% and 7% to 47%, respectively, and the prevalence of asthma ranged from 2% to 20%. There was no overall association between either cat or dog ownership and asthma (odds ratio [OR] = 0.97 [95% CI = 0.87-1.09] and 0.92 [95% CI = 0.85-1.01], respectively). Timing and degree of ownership did not strongly influence associations. Cat and dog ownership were also not associated with cat- and dog-specific allergic sensitization (OR = 0.92 [95% CI = 0.75-1.13] and 0.93 [95% CI = 0.57-1.54], respectively). However, cat- and dog-specific allergic sensitization was strongly associated with school-age asthma (OR = 6.69 [95% CI = 4.91-9.10] and 5.98 [95% CI = 3.14-11.36], respectively). There was also some indication of an interaction between ownership and sensitization, suggesting that ownership may exacerbate the risks associated with pet-specific sensitization but offer some protection against asthma in the absence of sensitization.
Conclusion: Our findings do not support early-life cat and dog ownership in themselves increasing the risk of school-age asthma, but they do suggest that ownership may potentially exacerbate the risks associated with cat- and dog-specific allergic sensitization.
Keywords: Cat; FAIR (findable; accessible; allergic sensitization; and reusable); asthma; birth cohort; children; dog; exposure; interoperable; life course epidemiology; meta-analysis; ownership.
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