Dogs could help protect against food intolerances
The fact that hospital admissions because of food allergies are up by 8%, in the UK, is all over the news. Exactly, why the figures are up at the moment is not 100% clear, which means that advice on how to avoid food allergies is a bit thin on the ground.
One potential, and unusual solution, is to consider getting a pet. Some in depth research carried out in Finland showed that children who are exposed to dogs and/or farm animals as young babies suffer from lower levels of asthma. They also got fewer colds, ear infections and other childhood ailments.
Again why that is the case, is not fully understood, however it is believed to be related to the ‘hygiene hypotheses. That theory is based on the fact that when a contaminant, such as a parasite or bacteria, tries to make your body its new home your immune system reacts and sees it off. Every time your immune system is triggered it learns, and, therefore, grows stronger.
If a child’s immune system is not regularly challenged it remains weak, which makes them more vulnerable to allergies of all kinds, including food allergies. There is a growing body of evidence that babies need low-level exposure to contaminants to develop as healthy an immune system as possible. Many experts believe the rising levels of allergies and food intolerance in children is due to the fact we are too clean.
OK, you get the picture. Exposure to reasonable levels of bugs, bugs, dirt and other relatively innocuous contaminants is good for kids. But, I can hear you asking what the hell has that go to do with the family mutt?
Well the fact is that dogs are pretty dirty critters. Taking a dog for a walk is like taking a huge feather duster out into a field, and brushing it around. As they walk around the pick up an alarmingly high level of dirt. And, we are not just talking about that mud which is now all over your kitchen floor. Dogs pick up contaminants from the air, anything they touch, and they spread all of that around when they get home.
Now this may sound alarming and actually put you off getting a dog. However, numerous studies show that this kind of low-level dirt is actually good for everyone. Provided you de-flea, worm and tick protect your dog regularly they are perfectly safe to have around children. A dog’s fur is not a sterile environment, but 99% of the time, what is on your dog is not harmful to humans.
Having a dog gives your baby’s immune system the chance to practice responding properly to low levels of contaminants. It learns, grows stronger, and is, therefore, less likely to over react when new compounds in the form of new foods are introduced to the body.
So, there you have it there is evidence that getting a dog can reduce the chances of your child developing allergies. It will also keep them fitter, happier and help them to grow into helpful, sociable and empathetic adults.
You can read more about the Finnish study here.
The University of Michigan has also carried out research into the subject. You can read more about their research here.