Background There is still controversy over whether exposure to furred animals increases or decreases the risk of developing sensitization and allergic symptoms to such animals, and there is a need for further knowledge on this subject.
Objective The aim of this study was to follow allergy development in relation to new extensive exposure to furred animals in adults and children.
Methods A total of 286 individuals, 128 parents and 158 children, were recruited from 68 families who intended to buy a dog or a cat, or where one child of the family intended to start riding a horse. Subjects were examined before the new allergen exposure and once a year thereafter for 5 years, in all at six occasions, and they also completed questionnaires covering allergy symptoms. Serum IgE antibodies to cat, dog and horse were determined each year, and fur allergens from beds and living rooms were analysed.
Results Two-hundred and fifty-six study subjects remained for evaluation, 37 of whom showed signs of allergic sensitization at the start of the study. Four children (11%) in this pre-sensitized group developed IgE antibodies to their new animal and six (16%) to another animal. Among the 219 participants who were not sensitized when entering the study, one male adult (0.4%) developed a sensitization to his new animal, and nobody developed sensitization to other animals. Pre-sensitized individuals had significantly more allergic symptoms at the study start, but the symptom scores did not change over time.
Conclusions When the first year of a human's life has passed, we have no strong evidence to recommend avoidance of a domestic animal in order to prevent new allergy development, even if there are known allergies in the family or if the individual is sensitized and has allergic symptoms to another allergen. Five years exposure to new fur allergens does not seem to influence sensitization to these animals in either sensitized or non-sensitized children and adults.