New Evidence that Dogs Help Prevent Asthma

New research findings contribute even more conclusive evidence that early contact with dogs can help prevent asthma, according to a study conducted by JAMA Pediatrics.

Before the JAMA Pediatrics, scientists knew that growing up on a farm significantly reduced a child’s chances of developing asthma, so many scientists have suspected that growing up around dogs might have a similar impact.

In a press release earlier this week, project leader Tove Fall said, “Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child’s risk of asthma to about half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true also for children growing up with dogs in their homes.”

This study was much larger in scope than many similar studies. It surveyed over 1,000,000 children, attempting to find a correlation between the instances of asthma and whether or not a dog was present in the home.

JAMA Pediatrics researchers found that kids who grew up in the presence of a dog had a 15% chance of developing asthma than those who didn’t.

JAMA Pediatrics point out that 15% may not seem like a large number—and, really, it isn’t—but that the study demonstrates that living with animals can have measurable impacts on human health.

More importantly, it debunks the wives’ tale that living with animals actually causes asthma.

So how do dogs help combat asthma in children?

According to the JAMA Pediatrics study, it has to do with the microbes that live in your stomach. This community of microbes, called the gastrointestinal microbiome, can be reshaped by repeated contact with animals. This is known as the “farming effect.”

Through repeated exposure to things like dog dander, the body becomes more tolerant to this type of allergen, and it doesn’t react as strongly when it encounters them (which reduces allergic responses).

Of course, asthma can be caused by lots of things, which the experiment took into account. Fall explains, “Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status.”

Fall also pointed out that being around dogs occasionally likely doesn’t have the same benefit of being around them all the time.

In her review of this study, Discovery News journalist Jennifer Viegas points out that it’s “…important to remember that the exposure to dogs must be constant and happen starting very early in an individual’s life. Once the person develops asthma or a particular allergy, it’s best that they try to avoid the triggers.”

And, of course, it’s important to remember that exposure to dogs only helps prevent asthma; it does not cure it. Catarina Almqvist Malmros, senior writer at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm explains, “We know that children with established allergy to cats or dogs should avoid them, but our results also indicate that children who grow up with dogs have reduced risks of asthma later in life.”

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