Happy news for dog lovers and for all children who want a dog! “Mommy! Can I have a dog! Please!”
A six year study discloses that having a dog in the home when children are infants significantly reduces the chances and severity of allergies later in life. Hurray! This good news applies to pollen variety allergies and to inhaled variety allergies, not just doggy variety allergies. (My mom should ‘a kept Tiffy Taffy, my fluffy little cocker spaniel!)
The study, conducted in Munich, Germany, at the National Research Centre for Environmental Health showed that sensitivities to the allergens that trigger serious conditions like asthma and eczema are significantly reduced by a dog’s company. It was found that immune sensitivity was reduced in the groups of children who had family dogs at home and in groups who frequently played with other people’s dogs .
The physiological reasons for this beneficial suppression of sensitivity in the children’s’ developing immune systems are not yet known. This study was designed as a detailed cohort interview study in which parents of 9,000 children answered detailed questions pertaining to the child’s possible allergic symptoms. The study continued from the birth of the children until they were 6-years old and detailed data was collected for each year. Additionally, tests for the presence of antibodies were made from blood samples taken from one third of the participants.
There is a theory being considered, which can be tested over time, that postulates that beneficial germs are carried into the home and to the child’s contact on the dog’s fur, thereby “training” the child’s immune system to develop antibodies and thus reject immunological sensitivity to the potential allergy triggers carried by the dog (would this work via outdoor cats as well one wonders). In other words, exposure in small, repeated doses to potentially allergy inducing substances desensitizes developing immune systems, thus making them strong, adaptable, and (in this case, the following is not a misused word) resilient.
Previous studies done on the basis of retrospective questionnaires have suggested that exposure to pets strengthens the immune system and builds up immune guards against allergies. This study, headed by Joachim Heinrich, offers substantial proof that pets help infants to build strong immune systems. As Heinrich says: “Our results show clearly that the presence of a dog in the home during subjects’ infancy is associated with a significantly low level of sensitization to pollens and inhaled allergens.”