Having A Pet Can Lower Your Baby’s Risk For Allergies

Studies show pets can boost your baby’s immunity.

The benefits of having a pet are endless. Aside from the boost to your physical and mental health, a pet can even extend your life (yes, really!). But the accolades don’t stop there — pets can even benefit the smallest members of the family.

According to studies, having a pet can actually lower your baby’s risk for allergies.

During a baby’s first year (and even during pregnancy!), exposure to pets may increase immunity, which in turn can reduce the risk of allergies developing in children. Isn’t that cool? Researchers call this the “hygiene hypothesis,” which is the theory that the cleaner we live, the more prone we are to asthma and allergies.

As it turns out, the idea of household bacteria and allergens might not be so alarming after all. That’s definitely a reversal of thinking, especially for new parents whose natural inclination is to sanitize everything that crosses their new baby’s path.

While research confirms that children who have exposure to pets (particularly dogs and cats) in the first year of life may suffer less from allergies, wheezing and asthma, it’s important to note that other factors can contribute to a lower risk of allergies, too:

  • Interaction with siblings
  • Exposure to day care
  • Genetics (Children have a one in three chance of developing allergies if just one of their parents has them, and a 70 percent chance if both parents have allergies.)

We spoke with Dr. Leah Alexander, a pediatrician and consultant for Mom Loves Best, for more insight on the connection between having a pet and your baby’s risk for allergies.

Reasons why pets may lower your baby’s risk for allergies

Environmental allergies and their related medical conditions are common in children, unfortunately (40 percent of children reportedly suffer from allergies in the U.S.).

“Recent research has shown that exposure to animals early in life, including household pets, can have a protective effect against the future development of allergies,” Dr. Alexander told The Dodo.

According to Dr. Alexander, there are a few theories as to why this may occur:

  • Exposure to pets during infancy primes the intestines with healthy bacterial flora which reduces the sensitization to allergens. This has mostly been seen in infants who aren’t exposed to vaginal flora because of a cesarean section birth.
  • Regular exposure to pets can promote the development of “immune tolerance” in a dose-dependent way; the number of pets and amount of contact increase the level of protection.
  • Some studies show not only a reduction in future allergies but also asthma and atopic dermatitis. However, the time frame for exposure to pets is critical — contact should begin prior to the infant’s first birthday. After a year, the risk of allergies and asthma increases.

Now, researchers aren’t saying that new parents should rush out and adopt a dog or cat to prevent their child from suffering from allergies in the future. Adults with existing pet allergies should take that into consideration, as well as the big responsibility that comes with caring for a pet.

But hey, if you’ve always wanted a pet … maybe now’s the time!