Q: I am pregnant for the first time, and I’m concerned that our child will develop allergies from growing up with our two cats. Should I find the cats a new home?
A:Multiple studies have proven that pets in the home actually protect children from allergies. A recent study shows that protection increases with the number of pets in the household.
The study followed nearly 1300 children from age 6 months until they were 8 to 9 years old. Researchers recorded the number of cats and dogs in the home and the children’s allergy episodes, including allergic rhinoconjunctivitis (sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes), eczema and asthma.
They found that nearly half the children without pets developed allergies. By contrast, significantly fewer children who lived with pets during infancy experienced allergies as they grew up.
Moreover, the study showed that a larger number of pets in the home was associated with a lower incidence of allergy, which gradually declined to zero for children who lived with five or more pets.
These children were protected from both animal and pollen allergens, suggesting that the children’s immune systems learned to tolerate allergens from the animals themselves and the pollens they carried on their fur.
These findings are consistent with earlier studies that showed a decreased incidence of allergies in children who grew up on farms.
Your two cats will help lower the chance of your child developing allergies—but not as effectively as if you adopt three more pets.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.