These findings, according to experts, should reassure pet owners and help direct research into the causes of childhood food allergies.
A new study suggests that children with pets may be less likely than other children to experience food allergies during foetal development and the early years of childhood.
The study, which was released in the journal PLOS One, examined data from more than 65,000 Japanese children.
In comparison to infants in homes without pets, children who were exposed to indoor cats or dogs had a 13% to 16% lower risk of developing all food allergies.
“Our findings suggest that exposure to dogs and cats might be beneficial against the development of certain food allergies, thereby alleviating concerns about pet keeping and reducing the burden of food allergies,” the authors wrote.
According to the study, children who were exposed to cats were less likely to develop allergies to eggs, wheat and soybeans, while children who were exposed to dogs were less likely to develop allergies to eggs, milk and nuts.
Although there was no connection between the exposure to turtles or birds and food allergies, hamster exposure during foetal development was associated with a nearly twofold increased risk of nut allergies.
According to the authors, infants may become hypersensitive to the nuts that hamsters eat through physical contact or household dust.
While the precise mechanism is still unknown, experts agree that pet exposure may improve a baby’s gut microbiome, either directly or indirectly, through modifications to the parent’s or household microbiome.
However, results from previous studies have been inconsistent. Pet exposure and a lower risk of food allergies have been linked by some researchers, whilst others have found no correlation.
It is possible that other factors influenced the findings, according to the researchers, even though they took into account a number of variables that could affect a participant’s risk of developing a food allergy, such as the mother’s age, history of allergic disease, smoking status and place of residence.
The researchers also noted that information on food allergies were self-reported, depending on the participants’ accurate diagnosis.