Pet ownership is associated with increased risk of non-atopic asthma and reduced risk of atopy in childhood: findings from a UK birth cohort

S M Collin, R Granell, C Westgarth, J Murray, E Paul, J A C Sterne, A John Henderson
Clinical and Experimental Allergy 2015, 45 (1): 200-10

BACKGROUND: Studies have shown an inverse association of pet ownership with allergy but inconclusive findings for asthma.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether pet ownership during pregnancy and childhood was associated with asthma and atopy at the age of 7 in a UK population-based birth cohort.

METHODS: Data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) were used to investigate associations of pet ownership at six time points from pregnancy to the age of 7 with asthma, atopy (grass, house dust mite, and cat skin prick test) and atopic vs. non-atopic asthma at the age of 7 using logistic regression models adjusted for child's sex, maternal history of asthma/atopy, maternal smoking during pregnancy, and family adversity.

RESULTS: A total of 3768 children had complete data on pet ownership, asthma, and atopy. Compared with non-ownership, continuous ownership of any pet (before and after the age of 3) was associated with 52% lower odds of atopic asthma [odds ratio (OR) 0.48, 95% CI 0.34-0.68]. Pet ownership tended to be associated with increased risk of non-atopic asthma, particularly rabbits (OR 1.61, 1.04-2.51) and rodents (OR 1.86, 1.15-3.01), comparing continuous vs. non-ownership. Pet ownership was consistently associated with lower odds of sensitization to grass, house dust mite, and cat allergens, but rodent ownership was associated with higher odds of sensitization to rodent allergen. Differential effects of pet ownership on atopic vs. non-atopic asthma were evident for all pet types.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Pet ownership during pregnancy and childhood in this birth cohort was consistently associated with a reduced risk of aeroallergen sensitization and atopic asthma at the age of 7, but tended to be associated (particularly for rabbits and rodents) with an increased risk of non-atopic asthma. The opposing effects on atopy vs. non-atopic asthma might be considered by parents when they are deciding whether to acquire a pet.

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