Background: Exposure to pets has been implicated as a risk factor for asthma. However, this relation has been difficult to assess in individual studies because of the large potential of selection bias. We sought to examine the association between exposure to furry pets and asthma and allergic rhinitis by means of a meta-analysis.
Methods: We retrieved studies published in any language by searching systematically Medline (1966–March 2007), Embase, LILACS and ISI Proceedings computerized databases, and by examining manually the references of the original articles and reviews retrieved. We included cohort and case–control studies reporting relative risk estimates and confidence intervals of exposure to cats, dogs and unspecified furry animals and subsequent asthma and allergic rhinitis. We excluded cross-sectional studies and those studies that did not measure exposure but rather sensitization to pets.
Results: Thirty-two studies were included. For asthma, the pooled relative risk related to dog exposure was 1.14 (95% CI 1.01–1.29), that related to exposure to any furry pet was 1.39 (95% CI 1.00–1.95). Among cohort studies, exposure to cats yielded a relative risk of 0.72 (95% CI 0.55–0.93). For rhinitis, the pooled relative risk of exposure to any furry pet was 0.79 (95% CI 0.68–0.93).
Conclusions: Exposure to cats exerts a slight preventive effect on asthma, an effect that is more pronounced in cohort studies. On the contrary, exposure to dogs increases slightly the risk of asthma. Exposure to furry pets of undermined type is not conclusive. More studies with exact measurement of exposure are needed to elucidate the role of pet exposures in atopic diseases.