About half of all households in the UK have a pet, with cats and dogs being the most popular. There are many benefits to having a furry four-legged family member – but did you know protecting your children against allergies is one of those benefits?

That’s right, alongside being a loving companion, lowering stress, providing a more harmonious dynamic for the family and aiding in a child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development, they also protect against allergies! Are there any negatives to having a pet?

There are, of course, conflicting arguments, with some believing that exposure to pets early in childhood is a risk factor for developing allergic disease. In fact it has been suggested that pets are the major cause of allergic disease – with half of all asthmatic children allergic to cats and 40% allergic to dogs.

However, new research is now suggesting that this is more likely to be the other way around and early exposure to pets may protect them against allergies.

Scientists have long argued that kids who grow up with a pet, like a dog or cat, or live on a farm with plenty of livestock are less likely to develop asthma or allergies. But, they didn’t know exactly what protected these kids. There was speculation that modern lifestyles are too clean and therefore immune systems aren’t exposed to enough bacteria, viruses and parasites to build up proper immunity.

Now a new study has found that infants in homes with furry pets were found to share some of the animals’ gut bacteria – which could go some way to explaining how early animal exposure may protect against some allergies.

The research used an ongoing probiotic study of pregnant women with a history of allergies. The participants included 51 infants of families with furry pets such as dogs, cats and rabbits, in the home and 64 infants with no pets in the home.

When the babies were one month old fecal samples were collected from their nappies and tested for the DNA of two types of Bifidobacteria that are specifically found in animal guts: B. the rmophilum and B. pseudolongum. One third of the pet-exposed group had the animal-specific bacteria, compared to only 14% of the comparison group. This is because when children live in close proximity with an animal, there is likely to be a transfer of microbiota, when the dog licks the child, for example.

At six months old the babies were tested for allergies to various allergens such as cow’s milk, egg white and bananas – 19 infants had reactions to at least one. None of the babies who reacted had the B.thermophilum bacteria in their fecal.

Human Bifidobacteria has beneficial health effects and the research would suggest that the animal-specific strains might also be beneficial to us.

While this research is part of a small preliminary study, it does suggest that we shouldn’t rule out owning a pet during pregnancy or the first few years of our children’s lives – quite the opposite!

So, before you stock your cupboards full-to-bursting with potions and remedies, you might want to check out the pets for sale from Freeads. But remember, pets are for life not just to prevent your children developing allergies!

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