Pets in the home can decrease food allergy risk for kids

It turns out that spending more time with man’s best friend at a young age can actually help decrease the risk of developing allergies to certain foods.

“We already knew that kids who grow up in rural areas around animals have a decreased risk of allergies,” said Allergist Dr. Troy Baker, with Kaiser Permanente in Virginia, “but this new study shows that having a pet around, no matter the environment, can help decrease risk of developing certain food allergies as well.”

A new international study out of Japan, involving more than 65,000 children, shows that kids exposed to household pets, such as cats and dogs, were less susceptible to having allergic reactions to eggs, nuts, wheat, and milk.

“Having a pet in the home can actually change the microbiome in your gut,” Baker said. “This means that you develop new helpful bacteria that you otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to without a pet being present in the home.”

He added, “That can be more beneficial when we’re talking about less risk of allergies.”

Early exposure is key. Baker said being around pets, even in the embryo state, could kickstart the immune system to develop this new helpful gut bacteria.

When is the crucial age for a child to be exposed?

“If a mother is pregnant, and then the baby is born, all the way up until 3 years of age,” Baker said.

Baker said there are exceptions to the rule, but that this new data is encouraging for all pet lovers out there. He said it’s something the scientific community will continue to look at, and is hopeful even more data about other decreased allergy risks associated with having pets can be brought to light in the future.

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Matt Kaufax

A Northern Virginia native who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, Matt is thrilled to be back home in the D.C. metro area covering news for a station he grew up listening to. Keeping the community he calls home informed about the day's events is something he considers an honor and privilege.

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