New twist on a pet theory

Cats are complex animals, which perhaps makes it appropriate that the question of the link between cats and children’s allergies keeps getting more complicated. Contrary to common wisdom, recent research has shown that early pet exposure may reduce allergic disease in children (SN: 9/7/02, p. 157: Pet exposure may reduce allergies.).

Now, a new study confirms that effect–except in kids whose mothers have asthma.

Juan C. Celedón of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and his colleagues followed 448 children born into families where at least one parent had signs of allergies or asthma. Previous research has shown that this sort of family history boosts a child’s risk of developing allergies and asthma.

After 5 years of age, kids who grew up with at least one cat in the house were 40 percent less likely to experience bouts of wheezing–a predictor of asthma–than were kids who never had a cat. Among children whose mothers had asthma, however, those with cats were about twice as likely to wheeze at and after age 3 than children who grew up with cats, the team reports in the Sept. 7 Lancet.

The same wasn’t true of kids whose dads had asthma. Why a mother’s asthma but not a father’s would increase a child’s risk of the disease in the presence of cats isn’t clear, says Celedón.


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