A new study from Sweden shows that infants who are exposed to dogs and farm animals at a very early age might be less likely to develop asthma by age six.
According to the results of the study, being exposed to dogs as a baby brings a 13% lower chance of developing asthma by the time the child is ready for school. Additionally, children who were exposed to farm animals had a 52% lower rate of developing asthma.
The findings do not prove that dogs and farm animals prevent asthma. However, they do discredit the common belief that these animals can actually make children more likely to develop the breathing disorder.
Lead author of the study Tove Fall said, “To let children have a pet in their home is likely to enrich the family life in many ways, and perhaps also enriches the child’s microbiome and immune system.”
The study was based on studying data from more than one million children who were born in Sweden between 2001 and 2010. Roughly 276,000 children were included in the study. The results showed that approximately 11,600 of these children had an asthma attack at some point during their young lives.
However, exposure to these animals was found to not prevent children under the age of three from developing asthma. Still, it did not improve their chances of developing the disorder.
Additionally, the study did have some flaws, in that it did not discuss allergy histories within the families, and it may have underestimated the children who have been regularly exposed to dogs and farm animals outside the home.
Also, the study offered no explanation as to how coming into contact with animals might reduce one’s likelihood of developing asthma.
Some experts, such as allergy specialist Dr. Frank Virant, have said that children who spend time around dogs or farm animals might be exposed to certain bacteria that lessens their chances of developing asthma. However, this has not yet been proven.