Having pet may be playing a role in variations in asthma prevalence in different ethnic groups
Racial and ethnic differences in childhood asthma rate may be linked with pet exposure or lack of pet exposure.
It is known that children exposed to animals (dog, cat) may have increased respiratory symptoms in early life but such exposure as family pets may have a protective role in some against developing asthma.
Prevalence of asthma is different in different ethnic populations. Researchers from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University Ohio, Columbus, in a new study hypothesized that differences in having pets at home may be one of the risk factor for differences in asthma prevalence in different ethnic populations.
This new study included 542 children from the Nationwide Children’s Pediatric Asthma Center. On the initial visit families were given a questionnaire which included information on ethnicity and presence of pet at home. Among the children58% were male and 41.4% were female. Mean age was 7.4 years at the time of asthma diagnosis and had asthma on average for 4.5 years.
Among the children 358 (66%) were Caucasian, 116 (21.4%) were African Americans and 35 (6.4%) were Hispanic.
Overall, 318 (60%) of families had a pet at home and among that number 247 (46.5%) had dog and 112 (21%) had cat at home and 75 (22%) had both cat and dog. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. Pet Ownership Statistics, 2010, 36.5% of households owned a dog and 30.4% owned cats.
However, rates varied considerably along racial and ethnic lines as expected from the national data. The survey showed the most dogs in Caucasian households, the fewest in African American homes, with Hispanics falling in between.
Among Caucasians (351) 247 (70.4%) had a pet at home, out of 115 African Americans 45 (39%) had a pet at home and out of 34 Hispanics 16 (47%) had a pet at home, hence, significantly more Caucasians had a pet at home compared to African Americans or Hispanics.
When it came to owning a dog; 55% were Caucasians compared to 30% African Americans and 38% among Hispanic families. For cats, 27% of Caucasians had a cat at home compared to 8% African Americans and 9% of Hispanics. Thus, revealing Caucasians had showed significant cat ownership and owned more cats and dogs in households compared to the other two families.
In their conclusion the team writes “More Caucasians had pets at home which may play a role in decreased asthma prevalence in this group compared to African American’s and Hispanics.”
Dr. Shahid Sheikh, MD, Pediatric Pulmonologist and Principal Investigator had explained to MedPage Today “Many people say if you have a pet early in life you may get sensitized, you may have increased symptoms, for a little while but then your body reacts to that and a lot of children who are exposed early in life to pets do develop some protection against [later] allergy and asthma from pet exposure.”
He notes that other studies have not supported such a pattern though, and there may be complex interactions with timing of exposure and level of antigen.
Dr. Sheikh noted that the findings of this study add some support to the literature favoring a protective effect of early exposure to dogs and cats.
“There is still more we don’t know than we do know. “”We are not saying everyone should go out and buy a pet, Dr. Sheikh noted.
He pointed out in an interview prior studies have suggested poverty and education are simply markers for asthma risk that differ among ethnic and racial groups rather than causal factors.
In closing he commented to MedPage Today “Further studies on the contributing and protective effects of pets on children’s respiratory symptoms and development of asthma are needed.”
This study appears in the journal CHEST, Official Publication of the American College of Chest Physicans.