Can pets and an outdoor environment prevent or delay allergies in children?

by Octavia Fineman

This is a question which I have asked myself for a good year and a half.  Yet today, whilst I listened to a podcast which featured dietician, Megan Rossi, she confirmed this was in fact true.  I took this as a sign that I must find the research, so today I have actively looked into the research to support her comment.


This research appears to have been highlighted as far back as 2003.  I was shocked as I thought this evidence had only really been discovered within the past decade.  Only because I have only first heard of it, and those I speak to, within the past 2-18 months.  Why then has there been no better communication in the media, by healthcare professionals and other channels?  An allergist, Thomas Platts-Mills, MD, PhD of the University of Virginia, and a group of Swedish researchers discovered that the longer children have pets within their household when young, ideally during their first 2 years, lower their risk of developing allergies later on in life.  This was concluded by their study of nearly 2,500 Swedish children.  The subjected were tested for allergies at 7 and 8, then 4 years later.  The study highlighted that 80% of children who had cat allergies, had never owned or had a cat at home.  This 2003 study appears to only link pet allergies with early pet exposure.  However, more recent studies have found a link between pets and other allergens.


In an article published in 2018 by Bara Vaida, “Can Dogs Keep Kids from Getting Allergies?” on WebMD Health News, it was pointed out that the living microbes in our gut (we have approximately 500-1000) are important to facilitating our immune system and metabolism to perform correctly.  We also need a diverse range of microbes and that the diversity can be attributed by our environment.  John DiBaise, MD, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Pheonix, AZ was the scientist that pointed this fact out.  He touched on the ‘hypothesis’ theory.  One which I know carries a lot of weight, due to my extensive research and reading around this subject, during my for my Master’s dissertation.  The theory believes after studying over a dozen studies that children who are exposed to wildlife and ‘dirty’ environments are less likely to suffer from asthma and other allergies.    The reasoning behind this, is because, without exposing ourselves to a variety of bacteria, which are found outside, the body’s immune system, the acquired, is unable to differentiate between dangerous and unharmful bacteria.  Therefore, in an allergy sufferer their immune system believes unharmful proteins found in their allergen are actually a danger to their wellbeing and so attack their allergen and cause an allergic reaction. 


So, what would my advice be? I would suggest buying a pet, maybe a dog?  It is Christmas next week after all, and as they say a puppy isn’t just for Christmas!  They may just build up your children’s immune system with a diverse range of bacteria.  Better check out where you can re-home or home a new pet this Christmas :).