EXPOSURE of pregnant mothers to dogs, as well as early contact between children and canine-specific bacteria, may reduce the risk of childhood eczema and asthma symptoms, according to results of two new studies. Dogs have been previously associated with lower stress levels in children and shown to increase the physical activity of their owners; now, there is further evidence showcasing the benefits of exposure to dogs.
A study, carried out by Dr Gagandeep Cheema, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, Michigan, USA, and colleagues, investigated a number of pregnant women, some of whom were exposed to at least one dog for ≥1 hour a day in their home, while others were not exposed at all. Results indicated that by 2 years of age, the children less likely to develop eczema were those born to mothers who were exposed to dogs during pregnancy, compared to those children whose mothers had not been exposed. However, it was noted that the protective effect of exposure to dogs during pregnancy was reduced once the child reached 10 years of age.
Another study investigated whether exposure to canine-specific proteins or pathogens, such as bacteria, affected asthma symptoms in children with the condition. Asthmatic children were exposed to either a protein known to cause allergic reactions to dogs, or particles that are likely to be found on dogs. It was concluded that children exposed to the dog-specific bacteria or other particles experienced reduced asthma symptoms; on the other hand, contact with the canine protein that often induces allergic reactions resulted in worsened respiratory symptoms for the children.
The lead study author commented on the results: “There seems to be a protective effect on asthma of non-allergic dog-associated exposures, and a harmful effect of allergen exposure.” Despite these positive results, further studies are warranted to verify whether exposure to dogs before and after birth can protect children against eczema and asthma.