Study Reveals Living with Pets Decreases Food Allergy Risk in Kids


If you are a parent or expecting a baby, you may have heard about the rising prevalence of food allergies among children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies affect about 8% of children in the United States, and the number has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011.

Food allergies can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis, and can limit the quality of life of children and their families.

But what if there was a simple way to reduce the risk of developing food allergies in your baby? What if having a furry friend at home could help your child’s immune system to tolerate common allergens? This is what a recent study from Japan suggests, based on data from over 65,000 infants.

The Japan Environment and Children’s Study

The study, published in PLOS ONE, analyzed data from the Japan Environment and Children’s Study (JECS), a nationwide and government-funded birth cohort study that started recruiting expecting mothers in January 2011. JECS is aimed to provide the foundation for policy making to safeguard the environment for the next generations.

The researchers of the study focused on the exposure of children to pet cats or indoor dogs during fetal development or early infancy, and its association with food allergies at 16 months of age.

The researchers categorized the infants into four groups based on their pet exposure:

  • No pet exposure
  • Exposure to indoor dogs
  • Exposure to indoor cats
  • Exposure to outdoor dogs

They also looked at other factors that could influence the development of food allergies, such as maternal age, smoking, breastfeeding, birth order, sex, gestational age, birth weight, and season of birth.

The Findings

The study found that among the children exposed to indoor dogs and cats, there was a significant reduction in food allergies, particularly egg, milk, and nut allergies for those exposed to dogs, and egg, wheat, and soybean allergies for those exposed to cats. Interestingly, children exposed to hamsters had a higher incidence of nut allergies.

The researchers speculated that the protective effect of pets could be explained by several mechanisms. One possibility is that pets could act as a source of microbial diversity, which could stimulate the maturation of the immune system and prevent allergic sensitization.

Another possibility is that pets could induce oral tolerance to animal proteins that cross-react with food proteins. For example, dog albumin is similar to bovine serum albumin, which is found in milk.

The Limitations

The study relied on self-reported data supplemented with medical records, and although it cannot establish causation, the findings provide valuable insights for further research into the mechanisms of childhood food allergies.

The study also had some limitations, such as potential recall bias, selection bias, residual confounding, and lack of information on pet breeds and allergen levels.

The Implications

The study suggests that having a pet cat or dog at home could be beneficial for your baby’s health and reduce the risk of developing food allergies. However, this does not mean that you should rush to get a pet if you don’t have one already.

There are many factors to consider before adopting a pet, such as your lifestyle, budget, preferences, and potential allergies or sensitivities of other family members.

If you already have a pet at home or are planning to get one soon, you should follow some basic hygiene practices to ensure a safe and healthy environment for your baby and your pet.

These include washing your hands after touching your pet or its belongings, keeping your pet clean and well-groomed, avoiding contact with your pet’s saliva or feces, and consulting your pediatrician if you notice any signs of allergy or infection in your baby.


If you are pregnant or have a young child, you may wonder if having a pet cat or dog indoors is beneficial or harmful for your child’s health. Based on this study, it seems that having a pet indoors may lower the risk of food allergies in your child.

However, this does not mean that you should get a pet just for this purpose, as there are many other factors to consider when deciding whether to have a pet or not.

Moreover, if your child already has food allergies or other allergic conditions such as asthma or eczema, you should consult with your child’s doctor before introducing a pet into your home.

Some children may be allergic to pets themselves or may have worsened symptoms due to pet dander or saliva.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent or manage food allergies in your child is to follow your doctor’s advice on diagnosis, treatment and avoidance of allergens. You should also educate yourself and your child about food allergies and how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction if it occurs.