London: Children who grow up with dogs have about 15 per cent less asthma risk than those without the pets, a new study has claimed.
A team of Swedish scientists used national register information in more than one million Swedish children to study the association of early life contact with dogs and subsequent development of asthma.
This question has been studied extensively previously, but conclusive findings have been lacking. The new study showed that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 per cent less asthma than children without dogs.
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.
The goal was to determine whether children exposed to animals early in life are at different risk of asthma.
"Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child's risk of asthma to about half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true for children growing up with dogs in their homes," said Tove Fall, Assistant Professor at Uppsala University.
"Our results confirmed the farming effect, and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 per cent less asthma than children without dogs," said Mr Fall.
"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," said Mr Fall, who coordinated the study together with researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
In Sweden, every person carries a unique personal number.
Every visit to a specialist physician and every prescription made are recorded in national data bases, accessible for researchers after de-identification of data.
Even dog ownership registration is mandatory in Sweden since 2001. These scientists studied whether having a parent registered as a dog-owner or animal farmer was associated with later diagnosis or medication for childhood 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," said Catarina Almqvist Malmros, senior author on the study, from Karolinska Institutet.
"Our results are generalisable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding pet ownership and farming," said Ms Malmros.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.