Cats or Dogs can Protect Kids from Food Allergies? New Research Says So! 

Cats or Dogs can Protect Kids from Food Allergies? New Research Says So! 

Some people who have children are advocates of having pets at home. New research may just make them stronger advocates, as it turns out that a family cat or dog protects children against food allergies from the time they’re in the womb. 

Food allergies cases from kids have increased in recent years, with more than one in ten now affected and seeking treatment. According to the research, pets could reduce risk by around 15%. 

To be specific, children exposed to dogs were less likely to experience egg, milk, and nut allergies. Meanwhile, those exposed to cats could reduce egg, wheat, and soybean allergies. 

“Continued dog and cat exposure from fetal development to infancy was estimated to reduce the incidence risk of food allergies,” lead author Dr Hisao Okabe said.  

This research analyzed over 65,000 infants from Japan who were tracked until they reached three years of age. The food allergy assessment was based on parent-reported doctor’s diagnosis. 

Before the children were born, researchers had gathered medical records during the first trimester of pregnancy and delivery. Once born and brought back home, parents report the findings of their children, then it was followed up at a one-month checkup. 

According to Dr Okabe, the hypothesis suggested that pet exposure could be an effective effort to prevent allergic disease. Some studies had also reported the advantages of dog exposure during fetal development or early infancy on food allergy. 

“This study aimed to explore the effect of exposure to various species of pets on the risk of food allergies,” Dr Okabe said. 

The effects of being too clean 

As allergy cases have increased over the years, one asks the question why. Well, a leading theory behind the rise in allergies is the “hygiene hypothesis.” 

We all want to be clean, of course, but it could lead to drawbacks when living conditions become too clean. The presence of germs enables immune systems to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants. 

Per the research, the UK has one of the highest rates in the world. Hay fever and eczema have decreased or plateaued. However, there are a lot more hospital admissions for acute reactions to food. 

Combatting food allergies is achievable through microbiome boost, and pet exposure helps that. Previous studies have indicated it increases good bacteria, making children less vulnerable. 

Dr Okabe said, “These findings reduce concerns about the development of allergic diseases caused by keeping dogs and cats. Reducing the incidence of food allergies will significantly reduce childhood mortality from anaphylaxis.” 



Children with pet exposure in the womb 

Around 22% of the participants were exposed to pets during the fetal period. The pets are commonly dogs and cats.  

Among children exposed to indoor dogs, there was a significantly reduced incidence of food allergies. However, there was no significant difference for children who were exposed to outdoor dogs. 

Those who were exposed to hamsters, fewer than one percent of the total group, had a significantly greater incidence of nut allergies. Surprising, since hamsters sometimes eat nuts. 

The results of this study can help guide future research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies, especially since food allergies in children have increased more than 10% in developed countries. 

Adults with food allergies would know that living in such conditions isn’t a walk in the park and sometimes it can reduce the quality of life. Food allergies could lead to danger as well, they can result in fatal anaphylaxis. 

So, the researchers believe that prevention is the priority. Early-life exposure to pets or older siblings could lead to an immunological benefit to human health, as proposed in the hygiene hypothesis back in 1989 which has been supported by eseveral epidemiological studies. 

And here my mother and some people around me keep insisting that I have to get rid of my baby cat if I get pregnant. Now I can safely tell them that it’s not gonna happen (insert smug grin here). 

Because Dr Okabe said, “Pet exposure has been suggested to be effective in the prevention of allergic diseases. However, in some developed countries, including Japan, families concerned about allergies continue to avoid owning pets.” 

But despite the benefit to children, pets put adults at a disadvantage 

I love cats and dogs, and knowing how they can help infants develop fortitude against food allergies, I love ‘em more.  

But, new research also suggests that cats and dogs can be as bad as living on a busy road or having a baby. Because they make us have more restless nights than those who don’t have pets at all. 

This study examined around 5,000 Americans, and it turns out that dog owners were linked with disorders such as snoring that disrupt peaceful sleep. While cat owners were associated with a higher chance of having leg cramps and spasms. 

Now, I personally haven’t had any experience with leg cramps and spasms as a cat owner, but I can totally vouch for sleep deprivation. Combine having a cat or dog with having a baby. No matter how beneficial they are for children, you’ll experience more drowsiness. 

This finding may open more doors to potential treatments for insomnia, which is prevalent in modern times especially in countries with more dog or cat ownership. 

Lead author Dr Lauren Wisnieski said that the causes of non-ideal sleeping quality associated with cats and dogs were unable to be established. But the differences in symptoms may be due to cats tending to be more active at night. 

The findings corroborate with previous studies which have identified pet ownership’s connection to sleep disorders and sleep quality.  

“On the one hand, dogs and cats may be beneficial for an owner’s quality of sleep due to the social support that pets provide. Pets offer a sense of security and companionship, which may result in improvements in levels of anxiety, stress and depression. Yet on the other hand, pets may disrupt their owners’ sleep,” Wisnieski said.  



Assessing the data and connecting the dots 

The study drew upon data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted in 2005-2006.  

It was based on computer models which considered factors such as feeling unrested, sleepy, not getting enough sleep, taking longer than 15 minutes to nod off and getting less than six hours of sleep on average. 

According to Wisnieski, if there’s more investigation on the causal relationship, the results will have implications for clinician recommendations for treating patients with poor sleep quality. 

“Educational resources can be developed to inform pet owners about the risks of sleep disruptions and offer potential solutions, such as crating the pet or restricting access to the bedroom at night,” Wisnieski added. 

One recent study found that cat owners lose around 728 hours of sleep in the first year of having it, while another revealed that during the first two weeks of bringing a new pup home, more than a third (35%) of ‘pawrents’ lost at least three to six hours of sleep each night. 

Although, Wisnieski’s team doesn’t completely rule out potential positive aspects of co-sleeping with our cats or dogs. “In the future, studies would benefit from measuring the human-animal bond, so that we can understand how the strength of it affects quality of sleep,” Wisnieski said. 

So maybe, two takes from this discovery: don’t raise a kitten or a pup when you also have a new baby so that you won’t lose more sleep. And although adult cats or dogs can also potentially reduce your sleep quality, along with your children, consider the benefits that you and your child(ren) will get. 

Because at the end of the day, your pets are a part of the family. Despite the sleep deprivation and all, it’ll be worth it. 



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