Living with cats and dogs may protect young children from developing food allergies.
While it remains unclear why some people develop allergies and others don't, Japanese researchers have now reported that little ones exposed to pets during foetal development or early infancy tended to have fewer food allergies compared to other children.
Following an analysis of over 65,000 babies in Japan, Hisao Okabe from the Fukushima Regional Center reported that around 22 per cent of those included were exposed to pets during the foetal period.
"Among children exposed to indoor dogs and cats, there was a significantly reduced incidence of food allergies, though there was no significant difference for children in households with outdoor dogs," the authors commented. "Children exposed to indoor dogs were significantly less likely to experience egg, milk, and nut allergies specifically; children exposed to cats were significantly less likely to have egg, wheat, and soybean allergies."
Surprisingly, children exposed to hamsters - less than one per cent of the group studied - had a significantly greater incidence of nut allergies.
And while the results may help guide future research into the mechanisms behind childhood food allergies, the researchers emphasised that the findings cannot determine if the link between pet exposure and food allergy incidence is causative.
Full study results have been published in PLOS ONE.