New research has suggested that the presence of a dog in the life of a child can have an unexpected beneficial effect. A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries and found that children who grew up with dogs had about 15% lower risk of asthma than children without dogs. Their research was published in JAMA Pediatrics.
A total of more than one million children were included in the researchers’ study linking together nine different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers not previously used for medical research.
Assistant Professor in Epidemiology, Tove Fall, who coordinated the study, said: “Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child’s risk of asthma by half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true also for children growing up with dogs in their homes. Our results confirmed the farming effect, and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15% less asthma than children without dogs. 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.”
As every person in Sweden has a unique identity number, and dog ownership registration is mandatory so the researchers were able to show a clear link between having parents who were a registered dog user and a lower proportion of children going on to develop asthma.
Senior author, Catarina Akmqvist Malmros, said: “These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how animals could protect children from developing asthma. 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. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding pet ownership and farming.”