Swedish study of one million children shows early exposure to dogs reduces asthma

We have probably gone a little too far and are just a little too protective of our children. The cleaner we try to keep everything around children, the less developed is their immunity and the more vulnerable they become later. I suspect it is the same thinking which has meant that we have also gone too far with so called Health and Safety provisions in schools which – for fear of accident and resulting liability – has reduced the fun – and the learning opportunities – of play, sports and excursions. The so-called precautionary principle (which is no principle but a political ideology) actually encourages actions to be subservient to fear. There is a difference between avoiding being foolhardy and being cowardly.

A Swedish cohort study on over one million children has found that early exposure to dogs clearly reduces the later risk of asthma.

Tove Fall, Cecilia Lundholm, Anne K Örtqvist, Katja Fall, Fang Fang, Åke Hedhammar, Olle Kämpe, Erik Ingelsson, and Catarina Almqvist. “Dog and farm animal exposure reduce risk of childhood asthma – a nationwide cohort study”.  JAMA Pediatrics. In press. DOI: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3219

Uppsala University press release (in Swedish) is here.


A team of Swedish scientists have 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 percent 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 results are being published for the first time in JAMA Pediatrics. 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 also for children growing up with dogs in their homes. Our results confirmed the farming effect, and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. 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” says Tove Fall, Assistant Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University, who coordinated the study together with researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. ……. 

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