Can growing up with a dog or cat affect your baby’s risk of developing eczema? According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, living the first four years of life in a dog-free zone can make a big difference to childhood eczema risk! Man’s best friend could help protect your baby in ways you’d never even imagined.
Cats, it seems, couldn’t care less about your kids’ health.(Just kidding!)
Kids Without Dogs Have 4-Fold Eczema Risk
This latest study found that children who grow up without a dog in the home were four times more likely to have childhood eczema at four years old than those who did have the benefit of a friendly pooch to walk them to and from school. This was true even if the kids actually tested positive for an allergy to dogs.
The study looked at 636 infants who had atopic parents (atopic conditions include asthma, eczema, and hay fever) and performed yearly clinical evaluations and skin prick tests to fifteen aeroallergens as well as to dietary antigens such as milk and eggs. Environmental exposure surveys were filled out by parents and samples of dust from each participant’s house were collected and analysed.
Cats Increase Childhood Eczema Risk 13-Fold!
By age four, 90 children had developed eczema, with those kids growing up without a dog and who were sensitive to dog hair 3.9 times more likely to have the skin condition. There was no significant increase in risk, however, in those dog owners with a dog-positive skin prick test.
Kids with the misfortune (!) of living with cats before the age of one and who had cat-positive skin prick tests were 13.3 times more likely, however, to have eczema by age four. Those without cats in the home had no significant increase in risk even if cat-positive on a skin prick test.
Fighting Like Cats and Dogs Over Reasons for Eczema Risk
Why the difference between rates of childhood eczema in cat and dog owners? Nobody is quite sure as yet but there are suspicions that having pets in the home increases the levels of endotoxin exposure for infants which may help form a stronger immune system later in life. Arguably, dogs also track in more outside pathogens that a baby’s immune system must learn to deal with, which could prevent it from turning on itself or developing an extreme reaction to a single antigen.
Are Grubby Dogs Protecting Your Child?
This is pretty much pure conjecture but perhaps cat people spend less time outdoors and keep their windows shut for fear of kitty escaping, leading to the recirculation of air and repeated exposure to the same potential allergens. Families with dogs may also simply be more accepting of grimy toddlers playing in the mud, having had years of towelling off soggy, filthy pups.
There is plenty of evidence that kids exposed to some degree of dirt during early childhood tend to have stronger immune systems and less hypersensitivities and allergies than those who lived in spotless households where no muddy paw prints were visible on the couch.
A Dog is for Life!
Having a dog in the home while bringing up baby may be added, then, to a raft of other factors that appear to influence the risk of eczema. These include a protective effect of early daycare, and endotoxin exposure, while cats and antibiotics, as well as the consumption of dairy and eggs may increase the risk of atopic eczema.
We’re certainly not advocating abandoning kitty when a new baby is on the way, but this kind of research may help some expecting parents think twice about surrendering their dog in favour of kids.
Torley D, Futamura M, Williams HC, Thomas KS. What’s new in atopic eczema? An analysis of systematic reviews published in 2010-11. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2013 Jul;38(5):449-56. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ced.12143
Epstein TG, Bernstein DI, Levin L, Khurana Hershey GK, Ryan PH, Reponen T, Villareal M, Lockey JE, Lemasters GK. Opposing effects of cat and dog ownership and allergic sensitization on eczema in an atopic birth cohort. J Pediatr. 2011 Feb;158(2):265-71.e1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2010.07.026.