Parents have long known that their family pets provide companionship and affection to their children, teach them responsibility, and help them develop empathy for others. But reduce the risk of allergies?

According to research performed by Dr. Dennis Ownby, children exposed to two or more dogs or cats during the first year of life had less than half the chance of developing allergies later in life than children exposed to only one or no pets during their first year.
"The striking finding here is that high pet exposure early in life appears to protect against not only pet allergy but also other types of common allergies, such as allergy to dust mites, ragweed, and grass," said Marshall Plaut, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Other studies have suggested a protective effect of pet exposure on allergy and asthma symptoms, but generally have looked only at whether pet exposure reduced pet allergy. This new finding changes the way scientists think about pet exposure; scientists must now figure out how pet exposure causes a general shift of the immune system away from an allergic response."

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