Early Animal Exposure and Childhood Illnesses | Pediatrics | JAMA Pediatrics | JAMA Network
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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
July 2017

Early Animal Exposure and Childhood Illnesses

JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(7):716. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.3121

Allergies, such as hay fever, and autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, often run in families. However, whether a child develops an allergy or autoimmune disease appears to be influenced by what the child is exposed to before birth and in early life. For example, we now know that early exposure to foods containing peanuts reduces the risk of children having peanut allergies.

Many parents wonder how exposure to animals may affect their child’s risk for allergies or other autoimmune illnesses. Exposure to animals can occur through having a furry pet at home, such as a cat or dog, or by growing up among farm animals. Animal fur contains many bacteria as well as dust and soil. Some parents may be concerned that being exposed to these bacteria or allergic contents in a pet’s fur might increase the risks of a child developing allergies or autoimmune illnesses. People used to be concerned that early exposure to pet fur might trigger a child’s immune system and lead to allergies or autoimmune diseases.