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Keywords:

  • asthma;
  • eczema;
  • hay fever;
  • atopy;
  • pets;
  • cat;
  • dog;
  • wheezing

Summary

Almqvist C, Garden F, Kemp AS, Li Q, Crisafulli D, Tovey ER, Xuan W, Marks GB for the CAPS investigators. Effects of early cat or dog ownership on sensitisation and asthma in a high-risk cohort without disease-related modification of exposure. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology 2010; 24: 171–178.

Variation in the observed association between pet ownership and allergic disease may be attributable to selection bias and confounding. The aim of this study was to suggest a method to assess disease-related modification of exposure and second to examine how cat acquisition or dog ownership in early life affects atopy and asthma at 5 years. Information on sociodemographic factors and cat and dog ownership was collected longitudinally in an initially cat-free Australian birth cohort based on children with a family history of asthma. At age 5 years, 516 children were assessed for wheezing, and 488 for sensitisation.

Data showed that by age 5 years, 82 children had acquired a cat. Early manifestations of allergic disease did not foreshadow a reduced rate of subsequent acquisition of a cat. Independent risk factors for acquiring a cat were exposure to tobacco smoke at home odds ratio (OR) 1.92 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.13, 3.26], maternal education ≤12 years OR 1.95 [1.08, 3.51] and dog ownership OR 2.23 [1.23, 4.05]. Cat or dog exposure in the first 5 years was associated with a decreased risk of any allergen sensitisation, OR 0.50 [0.28, 0.88] but no association with wheeze OR 0.96 [0.57, 1.61]. This risk was not affected by age at which the cat was acquired or whether the pet was kept in- or outdoors.

In conclusion, cat or dog ownership reduced the risk of subsequent atopy in this high-risk birth cohort. This cannot be explained by disease-related modification of exposure. Public health recommendations on the effect of cat and dog ownership should be based on birth cohort studies where possible selection bias has been taken into account.