Researchers followed 620 infants for 12 years, analysing cord samples, skin prick test results and information on pet-keeping, family demographics, childhood wheeze, eczema and hay fever.
The University of Melbourne team found that cat or dog exposure at birth moderately reduced the risk of current wheeze and hay fever from the age of seven to 12 years.
'This protective effect was stronger among children of nonsensitised fathers,' they said. 'In contrast, children of cat-sensitised fathers were at increased risk of wheeze when cat exposed at birth.' The researchers concluded: 'In our high-risk cohort, we found keeping pets in early life did not increase children's risk of asthma or hay fever and may even protect from developing these conditions.'
Lodge CJ, Lowe Aj, Gurrin LC et al. Clin Exp Allergy 2012: 42: 1377-85