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Dogs can Reduce Risk of Asthma in Children, Study Finds

Update Date: Nov 02, 2015 04:27 PM EST

Children who are exposed to dogs and farm animals at a very young age are less likely to develop asthma than children who are not exposed to the same levels, a new study reported.

For this study, the research team from Sweden set out to examine the effects of having pet dogs or farm animals on young children. They looked at two large sample groups that included at least 376,000 preschool-age children and at least 276,200 school-age children.

The researchers found that school-age children who were exposed to dogs had a 13 percent lower risk of asthma. To determine whether or not the families had dogs, the researchers looked to see if either parent was a registered dog owner. The researchers noted that if a child is already allergic to dogs, introducing one to the family would not be helpful.

"That's important information for parents who are pregnant or are planning to have a baby, that they should not worry about getting a dog or a puppy if they would like to," lead researcher, Tove Fall, from Uppsala University in Sweden, said reported by BBC News. "But if you have an allergic child you should not get a dog to cure your child. It won't work and will probably make the allergy worse."

The researchers found that farm animals reduced asthma risk even more. Being exposed to these animals lowered asthma risk in school-age children and preschool-age children by 52 percent and 31 percent respectively. The team had compared asthma rates in the children when they were seven.

Despite finding the correlation between exposure and asthma risk in young children, the researchers could not determine why this was the case. They argued that this study's findings could potentially be explained using the hygiene hypothesis, which theorized that lack of exposure to certain organisms and germs at an early age can increase one's risk of allergies.

"It has been shown that dog exposure is associated with altered bacterial flora in house dust and that mice exposed to such dust have alterations in their gut flora composition, as well as fewer allergic reactions," the study authors write. "This information might be helpful in decision making for families and physicians on the appropriateness and timing of early animal exposure."

The study was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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