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Man’s best friend

Children who grow up with dogs might just have fewer allergies.

books Updated: Oct 18, 2010 00:25 IST

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics says that children with a family history of allergies may be less likely to develop eczema, an allergic skin condition, if they live with a dog when they are younger than one year. But living with a cat may increase those odds, though only among children who are sensitive to cat allergen - substances in pet dander, saliva and urine.

Given the complexity of the situation, it is hard to give parents specific advice about pets, said Tolly Epstein, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio, who led the research team.

But as far as eczema goes, a number of studies have shown there is a consistent relationship among dog ownership and lower risk, she added.

“It may be that these children develop a tolerance, but we don’t know that for sure,” she told Reuters Health.

When the 636 children involved in the study were younger than one year, researchers visited their homes to collect dust samples. The children also underwent yearly exams, including a skin-prick test to see whether they’d become sensitised and their immune systems were producing antibodies after being exposed to allergens such as pet dander.

Overall, 14 per cent of the children had eczema at age 4. But that rate fell to 9 per cent among the 184 children who’d had a dog in their home during infancy.

Epstein noted that the results applied only to children with parents who have allergies.