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Reuters/Brendan McDermid
A helping hand.

Study: Kids who grow up with dogs have a lower risk of developing asthma

By Amy X. Wang

Dogs, in addition to being ever-lovable, come with health benefits. They are known to reduce stress, stave off depression, and dampen the risk of heart disease in their owners, and can lead to a more active and social lifestyle.

A a team of Swedish scientists has now uncovered yet another advantage, finding that children who grow up with dogs are 15% less likely to develop asthma. The conclusion is based on an analysis of data from nine different national registries covering 1 million Swedish children. The researchers, from Uppsala University and Karolinska Institutet, published their findings together yesterday (Nov. 2) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Sweden tracks medical records of all its citizens through unique ID numbers, and it also requires everyone to register dog ownership. This made it possible to comb through individual records and compare people’s histories of family dog ownership against diagnoses of childhood asthma. ”Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status,” Tove Fall, an epidemiology professor and one of the researchers, said in a press release about the finding.

Catarina Almqvist Malmros, a pediatrician and the study’s senior author, added that the findings are likely “generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding pet ownership.”

But, she added, more research needs to be done to establish exactly why—and how—children with exposure to dogs are more protected from asthma than those without. More than 230 million people worldwide have the chronic inflammatory disease; in the US, it affects 8.5% of children. Though its causes are unclear, both genetics and external allergens are thought to play a role.

Dogs aren’t the only animals that can reduce the odds of asthma in children. According to the researchers, past studies have shown (and theirs confirmed) that growing up with farm animals offers the same health effect.