Yet another reason to love a dog

Jennifer Jolly lets out Pickles, a French bulldog borrowed through the new app Bark’N’Borrow, from her front door in Oakland, Calif., Nov. 8, 2015. (Elizabeth D. Herman/The New York Times)

Need an excuse to get a dog? Have a baby.

It turns out that dogs can play a key role in reducing a baby’s susceptibility to allergies.

Common thinking has been that exposure to dogs puts children at greater risk of the wheezing, sneezing and rhinitis of allergies. And in some cases, that’s true.

But if the baby is exposed to a dog from birth, it has the opposite effect.

Research at the University of Wisconsin Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics evaluated 275 children who had at least one parent with respiratory allergies or asthma. Each year for three years, investigators asked whether the family had a dog at home, determined whether the children had symptoms of dermatitis and wheezing, and checked for immune responses in the children’s blood.

Children who got a dog some time after birth did not seem to have the same health benefits as children exposed to dogs from infancy.

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The reasons for this merit further exploration. Investigators think that exposure to dogs may contribute to a critical step in a child’s rapidly developing immune system—a step that may occur shortly after birth.

Will future research shed, so to speak, some light on this immunologic mechanism? UW researchers hope so. Better understanding of the process could lead to better allergy prevention strategies for children.

And that would help parents breathe more easily, too.

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