Growing up with a dog reduces the risk of asthma. People who had a pet at an early age in fact run a 15% lower risk than those who grew up without one. The conclusion of a study published in the journal of JAMA Pediatrics at the University of Uppsala and the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden).

I'm a dog too

The researchers examined data from a national registry that includes more than one million children in Sweden, and other databases such as the register of dog owners. The results speak for themselves: the children raised with a dog in the house experience the so-called “farm effect”. In other words, we tried to see if the presence of domestic animals, as it happens on a farm or in a country house, is associated with the risk of asthma. Other studies have indeed shown that the risk of asthma is halved for those who live in the countryside surrounded by animals.

However, the researchers stress that the study has only observed an association between two phenomena in a large population, without providing answers on whether and how animals might protect children from developing asthma. What is certain is that contact with a dog in the first year of life reduces the risk of asthma in children that are 6 years of age. A conclusion that refers to Swedish population but it can be extended to all Europeans, and a useful study for families who are thinking of growing a baby with an animal at home.


Asthma in children and the presence of a dog: a further confirmation of the “hygiene hypothesis”?

“The Hygiene Theory (Hygiene Hypothesis) was born in the late ’80s and it was later supported by many scholars and various epidemiological evidence. It can be simply summarized in the paradigm “more hygiene = more allergy,” – explains Dr. Francesca Puggioni, specialist in diseases of the respiratory system at Humanitas hospital.

Actually, the problem is the question “what infectious agents play a protective role in respect of the appearance of allergic diseases?” An Italian group, formed by Professor. Matricardi, since the early 90’s studied the research and concluded that it is mainly the infections transmitted through fecal-oral contact (hepatitis A, Toxoplasmosis, Helicobacter P.) that repeatedly stimulate the gastrointestinal immune system, allowing proper maturation of the immune response and the correct polarization of lymphocytes (T helper 1) that “hinder” the development of allergies.”

‘Furthermore, with regard to the intestinal flora, some Swedish scholars (Sep 1997) have shown that lactobacilli can prevent sensitization of allergic type, performing a sort of persistent “pressure” on the gastrointestinal immune system.”

Do we endorse the conclusions of the research on dogs and asthma risk in children?

“Yes, but with a few clarifications. In the case of family history of allergy it is always recommended to initially obtain an assessment from a specialist in order to deal with the entry of an animal in the home in a responsible manner, to know any symptoms and drug therapies that need to be taken in case of symptoms and to be aware of the general consequences. Too many parents take an animal without first investigating and then they are forced to remove the animal from the home with displeasure and pain it causes both the children and the baby animal.”

What is involved in the onset of asthma in children? Can you do something to prevent it?

“First of all you must have a timely foreseen diagnosis from a specialist. A well defined therapeutic program that includes not only drug therapy, but also a lifestyle setting, from food to sports, shared with parents and family members, adapted to the practical demands of everyday life, and programming for suitable clinical check-ups to the progression and frequency of the disease, allowing the patient and the family to live in a conscious, serene and ‘normal’ environment.”

“Especially in the beginning there must be close cooperation with the specialist: as in the past you have to think that it takes a village to raise a child. Many fears and doubts may impair the growth leading to allergies and excessive limitations. From a pharmacological point of view the ideal drug is a specific hyposensitizing vaccine: the only therapy that can block the natural progression of allergic disease.”