Cat and dog combination nothing to sneeze at

Trying to decide whether a dog or cat will protect you from allergies? New research says you should live with both.

A team of New Zealand researchers who tracked more than 1000 people over 30 years found those who lived with dogs and cats for significant periods of time were less likely to develop allergies, compared with those who lived with either a dog or a cat.

17 Cat and dog combination nothing to sneeze atUsing skin-prick tests to measure reactions to common allergens, they found that 35 per cent of children with both pets had developed allergies by age 13. This compared with 43 per cent of those with no pets and 52 per cent of those who had either a dog or a cat.

“The reduction in risk among those with cats and dogs was not specific to animal allergens but included multiple allergens, including house dust mite and grass,” said the researchers, who included Professor Malcolm Sear of the University of Otago in Dunedin.

The protective effect seemed to last until the participants entered their 30s, although this was confined to people with a family history of allergies, the study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, said.

The researchers said it was unclear why living with both cats and dogs appeared to produce a protective effect, but they said exposure to multiple allergens might produce favourable responses to indoor and outdoor allergens.

One in three Australians will develop an allergy during their life, according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy.

Previous research has suggested different effects for children of varying ages. One study said exposure to pets in the first year of life was associated with lower prevalence of asthma at age six. Another said pets increased the risk of asthma in children aged over six.

The New Zealand research said although the findings created a dilemma for those making decisions on the health effects of pets, ”if parents with [a history of allergies] decide to own a pet, our data suggests that combined cat and dog ownership might be necessary to confer a protective effect”.

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