As if their unconditional love, mood-boosting powers and delightfully slobbery kisses weren't enough, dogs may provide yet another benefit to their human families. According to a new study from Uppsala University in Sweden, children who grow up with dogs have about a 13 percent lower risk of asthma than kids who didn't.
Researchers analyzed data on more than a million Swedish children in nine different national registries, controlling for parental asthma and socioeconomic status, among other factors. The data covered births between 2001 and 2010 and included details on asthma diagnosis and medication, if any, and information about dog and farm animal ownership.
Exposure to dogs during a baby's first year was linked to a 13 percent lower risk of asthma in school age children, while farm animal exposure was linked to a 52 percent lower risk for school age children and a 31 percent lower risk among preschool age tots. The study was published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.
According to the researchers, previous studies have associated dog exposure with "altered bacterial flora in house dust," and the fact that mice exposed to this dust have fewer allergic reactions and experience changes in their "gut flora." But this was the first study to connect such specific dots in humans.
Sweden is a particularly advantageous location for this research because of the country's organized identification system. Every individual in Sweden has a personal number used to record physician visits and medical prescriptions, along with a host of other data. All of the information is recorded in national databases, which researchers can access for studies after each number is stripped of identifying and personal information about its owner.
Researchers were able to study whether having a parent registered as a dog owner or animal farmer was associated with later diagnosis or medication for childhood asthma because dog ownership registration has been mandated since 2001.
"We know that children with established allergy to cats or dogs should avoid them, but our results also indicate that children who grow up with dogs have reduced risks of asthma later in life," said Karolinska Institutet epidemiologist Catarina Almqvist Malmros, a senior author on the study, in a statement. She noted that the study merely shows a population-level association and shouldn't be seen as a prescription for individuals quite yet.
Still, we wouldn't be surprised to see this study listed on some precocious kid's campaign to get a family dog.
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