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Sometimes you really don’t know what to believe. The science seems to change so fast.

Take allergies to pets, and particularly cats, for example. There are a few things we know with confidence:

 –        That most pet allergies are not to the pet, or to the hair, but to the dander. Dander is that amazing mix of dead skin cells, saliva and dust (including dust mites) that floats off all living beings  as a fine dust that you can see when there’s a ray of sunlight. In birds, dander can also carry disease.

 –        That most pet allergies develop over time. You can start off a happy healthy pet owner and then develop an allergy that seems to get worse and worse. That’s because your immune system learns to over-react and that takes time.

 –        Not all pet allergies are permanent. Take the pet away and some people become less allergic when they are exposed to pets. Some people can go to the doctor and get “desensitised” with controlled exposure to what makes them sneeze.

 –        Allergies are usually not genetic, but they do run in families. If you had allergic parents (hay fever, eczema, or asthma) you are more likely to be allergic yourself – regardless of what triggers your allergy.

 –        Generally speaking, having an environment that is too clean in the first 1-2 years of life is associated with a higher risk of life threatening allergies in particular, and allergies in general. That association is now well documented in humans, and most doctors are advising parents.

–        Pet allergies are rarely life threatening. You might sneeze, itch, or your skin swell up and go blotchy. People with severe asthma are at risk, but anaphylaxis (that shocking sudden allergic reaction where people’s airways swell up and they can’t breathe)  is virtually unknown in pet allergy as compared, say to eggs or seafood.

 –        Many people successfully control pet allergy just by controlling the pet dander. For dogs that may mean a professional groomer and frequent baths, for cats that may mean a daily wipedown with a damp cloth as well as trips to the groomer

Pets & Kids Are Meant to be Together, Right!?


But what about pets and babies?

Here’s where the science gets messy.

There are a number of studies that clearly show that exposing babies to dogs and cats in the first 12 months of life reduces allergies to pets in later life  – and a new study that says exactly the opposite. Predictably, each side of the “pro pet” and “anti pet” debate is quoting the studies that suit them!

It’s fair to say that at the moment, the balance of scientific papers is that owning pets in the first year of your life is likely to have beneficial effects – except where you have highly allergic parents – but it’s hard to state this as a fact until better studies are done on this aspect of pet ownership.

Check out the headings – you can see the bias of the researchers even in their headlines for reporting!

Early Life Exposure to Cats May Reduce the Risk of Childhood Allergies and Asthma Symptoms (2008)

Early Exposure to Pets Does Not Increase Children’s Risk of Allergies, Study Finds; Evidence Suggests It May Actually Reduce Likelihood (2011)

 Cat Hair At Home Poses An Allergy Risk, Particularly For Young Children

  Newer studies look at all of the studies available. It concludes that where there is no family history of allergy, keeping a dog around the time of birth and afterwards reduces the risk of allergy developing in children. Where there is a family history of allergy, there appears to be no benefit or dis-benefit from having a pet when children are babies .

See Perinatal Cat & Dog Exposure and the Risk of Asthma and Allergy in the Urban Environment


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