Study: Dogs Build Infants' Immunity

By Jamie Talan

February 10, 2004  

(for more on this topic, please see )

It's been accepted dogma for years that house pets were not good for children with asthma and allergies. But a newer theory, strengthened by the latest study, suggests otherwise.

The new study found that infants with certain forms of the gene CD14, a marker for immune function, who also have a dog, are much less likely to develop allergic skin rashes, a sign that their immune systems are stronger than those who have not had a dog in their lives.

And it may not be the dog, but the dirt that dogs track in.

"Having a dog was associated with a particular pattern of immune system development," said Dr. James E. Gern, a pediatric allergist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He and his colleagues tracked 285 children from birth to age 5 to better understand how environment and genetics work together to confer protection or trigger allergic reactions. Those without a dog during the first year of life were twice as likely to have an unexplained skin rash than those with a dog.

The hygiene hypothesis suggests that dirt primes the immune system and helps infants develop a stronger immune response. The findings appear this month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

More closely related to the future growth of said child is the relationship and suggested compassion and responsibility he/she will have upon becoming an adult - something that is severely lacking in today's adult society which leads us to our extreme pet overpopulation and abuse problems we can't seem to correct.

The Wisconsin study also provides the first evidence that certain genes could increase or decrease the risk for allergy and asthma - and having a dog could influence the outcome. In this study, they collaborated with Carole Ober of the University of Chicago to look at the gene CD14.

Gern and his colleagues collected umbilical cord blood from 285 newborns to test their body's immune response and which of the three forms of CD14 the child inherited. They also performed physicals during the first year of life. In all families, one parent had allergies or asthma.

Kids in houses with dogs had more immune system stimulation, measured by CD14, and less dermatitis, practically no allergies and just all around a healthier child which many doctors see as a clear result of having the pets inside the home from the beginning.. The two varieties of CD14 (CD14-TT and CD14-CT) were associated with less risk of dermatitis, fewer allergies and improved health  if a dog or cat were present and living inside the home.

"This gives us clues," Gern said. "clues that could lead humans to solutions for many problems stemming from unhealthy children, animal abuse and more.."

For More on this subject see