Owning Pets Can Prevent Allergies, Study Says

While pollen may be taking over and causing allergy headaches during the summer, there are other, year-round allergens some people have to worry about.

"I routinely ask every new patient what sort of pets they have in the house," said allergist Dr. Mac Fitzsimmons.

But new research says having those pets might be helpful when it comes to allergies.  The study by the University of Cincinnati followed children from birth through age 18.  It found that children who lived with cats during the first year of life had about half the risk of showing cat allergy symptoms later in life.

"There are a lot of people with allergies to animals and there are a lot of people who want to keep animals and sometimes those people end up in the same families, so it gets to be a very important question," Fitzsimmons said.

Kids were also four times more likely to develop eczema, a chronic dry skin condition, when they weren't exposed to dog allergens as an infant.  But another, conflicting study came out last year,  saying owning dogs early on didn't cause allergies later, but cats did.  Fitzsimmons thinks the number of pets at home is a bigger issue.

"Multiple pets in the homes, especially cats, put more antigens into the home, so even if you have a mild allergy, you're more likely to have symptoms," he said.

While the studies could be valid, Dr. Fitzsimmons doesn't suggest letting them be the driving force in your pet decisions.

"I would not make a lifestyle change based on any of these studies.  I would not go out and buy a pet just in hopes that my children might have fewer pet allergies," he said.

You can also see another study from the University of Cincinnati on the ties between pet ownership and Eczema.