Baby with puppy

A new study has found that when children are exposed in their first year of life to dogs or cats, they are significantly less likely to develop allergies to those pets.  The study, published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, followed 566 boys and girls from birth to age 18, conducting annual interviews to track the kids' exposure to pets.  When the children turned 18, a blood sample measured their allergic sensitivity to dogs and cats.

Boys who had dogs at home in their first year were half as likely to be allergic to dogs as boys who did not have dogs at home (researchers aren't sure why, but the results were slightly less pronounced with girls).  Both male and female 18-year-olds who had been exposed to indoor cats during infancy were also about half as likely to be allergic to cats.

The decisive factor, researchers concluded, is early exposure during the first year of life.  The authors concluded, "The first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats influences sensitization to these animals."

If you're thinking of getting a pet, check out this feature on how to choose the best pet for your child.

More on childhood allergies from PNN: