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Mum and Dad

Pets and pests in the home may help prevent asthma


Claudia Boyd-Barrett

posted in Parenting

Having cats, dogs, mice and even cockroaches in your home may help protect your baby or toddler from developing asthma, a new study suggests.

Scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health found allergens from these common critters may boost children’s immune systems if they’re exposed to them early in life. That’s welcome news for those of us who struggle to keep cat hairs off the furniture and household pests under control.

The scientists, who published their findings in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, looked at data on more than 440 children enrolled in a long-term, ongoing investigation into asthma risk factors. Researchers analyzed dust samples taken from the children’s homes when they were ages 3 months, 2 years and 3 years old.

According to the findings, higher concentrations of cat, mouse and cockroach allergens in the dust samples were linked to a lower risk of children in those households developing asthma by age 7.


Dog allergens also seemed to reduce the risk of asthma, but the findings on this were weaker and the association could just have been a coincidence.

It’ll take more research to be sure these allergens really are helpful to young kids (by contrast, we know they can exacerbate symptoms in people who already have asthma). Encouragingly, another study last year found that Amish children exposed to farm-animal microbes in house dust also had lower rates of asthma than children who didn’t get that exposure.

Scientists also have to figure out how to harness this potential new information to actually prevent asthma, even among kids who don’t have pets or pests in the home.

In the meantime, maybe don’t sweat the cat hairs on the sofa quite so much.

What do you think of this research? Are you encouraged by the idea that early exposure to common pet and pest allergens could ward off asthma?

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