Stockholm, Sweden – Exposing young children to dogs may lower the risk of suffering asthma. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asthma affects 235 million people all over the world, and it affects one of every 11 children in the U.S.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, tries to prove that early exposure to dogs and to farm animals can decrease the risk of asthma. Nevertheless, proving that the dog itself protects the kid from asthma is rather hard to do, the authors explain.

According to the WHO, asthma affects 235 million people all over the world, affecting one of every 11 children in the U.S. Credit: Dog Time

“This is important because asthma is a common chronic disease and parents may worry whether or not they should keep their pets when having a baby,” said Tove Fall to CBS News. He coordinated the study with researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Asthma makes it hard for air to go in and out of the lungs, what causes wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. It can develop in a series of allergies or hypersensitivity.

Researchers analyzed national registry information on nearly a million Swedish children, studying the relationship between the condition and the contact with animals. They found that kids growing up with dogs had a 13 percent lower risk of suffering the disease by age 6. Farm animals exposure was linked to a 52 percent lower risk for school-age kids, and a 31 percent among preschool children.

Researchers propose a series of theories that could explain their results. One says that the a combination of factors related to having a dog, such as kids exposure to dirt, pet dust, and time spent outside playing with the pet, and being physically active, could make the difference.

“One of the main hypotheses at the moment is that kids in animal environments breathe air that contains more bacteria and bacterial fragments, which actually could lower their risk of asthma. As a parent in a dog-and-baby-household, it is nearly impossible to keep everything clean, and maybe this is a good thing for your baby’s future health,” authors said to CBS News.

Nevertheless, scientists warn that animals should be kept away from children that are allergic to them. Also, not all the results turned out to be positive, as researchers found that dog ownership could be associated with a higher risk of pneumonia and lower respiratory tract diseases in preschool children.

However, the study was made under certain limitations: it was restricted only to Swedish population, and they focused on children aged up to 7, so it’s hard to say what could be some later effects of this exposure. Also, they didn’t get access to individual allergy testing to access even more data.

According to CBS News, Tove Fall said she and her team will continue to work on projects aiming to determine dog’s impact on children’s health, determining the different effects of various dog breeds on the risk of developing asthma.

Source: JAMA Pediatrics