Of Kids and Dogs and Allergies and Asthma

Readers — A study discussed in yesterday’s SFGate (the San Francisco Chronicle’s website) suggests that kids growing up with dogs may be a little more protected against allergies and asthma, thanks to early exposure to the bacteria the dogs bring in. The bacteria seem to sort of “immunize” the kids. What’s Free-Range about that?


And imperfection. And an old-fashioned childhood. Since time began, kids and dirt have gone together like mud and pie. They tracked dirt in. They tracked it out. It is only our modern day, Purell-soaked society that is keeping kids cleaner than clean — perhaps cleaner than makes sense.

To me, the fetch-home message, then, is not only don’t worry about having a dog or dogs in the home. It’s to embrace the interaction of our children with animals, with the world, with germs, the outdoors, and with strangers of both the bacterial and human kind. They will be the stronger for it. – L.

This is good for all concerned.

This is good for all concerned.

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30 Responses to Of Kids and Dogs and Allergies and Asthma

  1. EazieCheeze December 26, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    As I like to say, “God made dirt, so dirt won’t hurt!” I’m working out their immune systems!

  2. Stacey December 26, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    You have to be exposed to things to develop immunity or learn to interact with them, whether it’s germs or people, or language… that’s the entire point behind a vaccine. Controlled exposure to a weakened virus. Develop antibodies. If you are never exposed to bacteria, you will never develop immunity. Too much antibacterial soap, sterile living etc… Another horror of “over protection”. If you blindfold a child from birth and take the blindfold off at age 5, they won’t see well either. If the eyes are not exposed to light, they will never learn to see, either. If you never hear language until a late age, you will not develop that either.. Why is this so surprising to people?

  3. E Simms December 26, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

    And there’s this from the FDA:


  4. georgia December 26, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Early exposure to the little piddly germs is definitely a good thing. Despite the health benefits, it’s still icky when you watch the toddler put their hands into the dogs mouth, then back into their own. Ewwwwww.

  5. Lin December 26, 2013 at 5:10 pm #

    Not surprising indeed. I was recently accused of letting my child get worms from the dog. I had great pleasure in telling the accuser that dogs and kids get different types of worms (except for tape worm, but that’s rare) and that kids get worms from other kids. And of course they’re easy to treat and nothing to get worked up about anyway.

    There was also a study a few years ago that showed that early exposure to farm animals reduced the likelihood of getting flu and other common viruses. (Tried to find it, but google is failing me today)

  6. Scott December 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    There was an episode from the original Star Trek series that had a character who had contracted some incurable virus that arose from the sterile and germ free environment of 23rd century. I always think about that 1960’s foresight when I hear people say we have to take showers in hand sanitizer.

    It is life imitating art?

  7. SOA December 26, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Yes, there may be a relation but as it is they still have no idea what causes allergies. There is also a proven genetic relation with some patients. Mostly I don’t like anyone pointing fingers trying blame someone for their kids food allergies.

    It is not always something avoidable and we still have no definitive answer what causes it. We don’t have pets because I don’t want a pet. We did take our twins out for stroller rides around the neighborhood for fresh air since they were babies and they have always been allowed to go play outside.

  8. Gina December 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    We have always had pets, including reptiles and dogs. My kids know to wash with soap after they handle the reptiles…but who knows if they have always done it?; they’re kids! So far, after 30 years, no salmonella. (Side note; we had tiny water turtles in a tank in our KITCHEN when we were growing up and we played with toads outside all summer. I doubt I ever used soap on my hands until I was a teenager!)
    As a preschool teacher in a diaper-room, I always said the state regs were causing us to raise a generation of immune-surpressed children….Our future adults are going to be sick ALL the time.
    Also, I am now the Nanny of a ten month old. The other day, I took him with me to Urgent Care to get my own son checked. I put the baby on the floor to play and the PA came in and started telling me that I HAD to pick him up because of the germs; “we get all kinds of stuff in here, including MRSA”. I said: He is building his immune system. And why are there more germs on the floor than in the air?
    I took him home was two bites into lunch before i remembered to wash his hands. I relayed the story to his mom later (She is a BIOLOGIST!) and she laughed along with me. But I seriously worried that the PA would call CPS on me….

  9. Renee Anne December 26, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    We have a dog. He drags dirt in the house. We have a 3 year old son. He drags dirt in the house. The dog poops. Little Man plays with it. It’s gross, it smells, and it makes me want to vomit…but it’s not hurting him too much. He’s not eating it and I make sure he washes his hands several times afterwards. He also loves to play in mud.

    ……says the Mama who tried to eat gravel several times during her early childhood and frustrated her first grade teacher to no end by making “Russian Mud Pies” (mud pies with sand mixed in – why I called them that, no idea).

  10. Reziac December 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm #

    Turns out something like a third of the kids tested had antibodies to pinworms — showing that they’d had a pinworm infection at some point in their lives, even tho they had no pinworms when tested. But a normal healthy immune system takes care of ’em all by itself.

    Incidentally it turns out that roundworms in dogs aren’t precisely a parasite; rather, they’re more like a symbiote: some exposure to roundworms is desirable to kickstart a young puppy’s immune system (by the time the pup is a year old, that healthy immune system will control the roundworms). And puppies are born free of roundworms are prone to neonatal diarrhea. [I’m a canine professional, and I’d actually discovered that about 20 years before the research came out.]

  11. Gina December 26, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    I am laughing so hard…your son PLAYS with dog poop! OMG, even I’m not that brave..but I also don’t judge you….clearly it isn’t hurting him!
    Also, I LOVE the Russian Mud Pies. Did you grow up during the Cold War?

  12. vas December 27, 2013 at 2:56 am #

    An interesting and relevant article: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/12/ap_thompson-2/

    ‘What she has found, over and over, is that teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”’

  13. BL December 27, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Reminds me of this five-year-old story.

    It seems peanut allergy is nearly unknown in Israel, possibly because almost all Israeli children are exposed to a popular peanut-based candy called “Bamba” at a young age:


  14. Jessica December 27, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    I don’t have dogs but I’ve always had at least one cat around my kids. My older son has a ton of seasonal and food allergies (not to cats, thank goodness!) and I’ve read the articles before about animals reducing allergy risk. Since there’s no way to where his allergies came from, my assumption has always been that being around animals from birth helped to some degree. Maybe his allergies would have been worse without them…

    And no hand sanitizer for us. Soap and water are all you need.

  15. sue December 27, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    soa: no one is pointing fingers at you, an idea about some allergies was mentioned. chill.
    gina: i agree. about 10 or 15 years ago analog [a scfi mag] ran a story about a time traveler who came back to the great influenza epidemic to gather diseases since in the future they had eliminated all of them and as a result the population suffered teriblbly from allergies and autoimmune diseases. i know that was scfi but funny how current research is starting to prove this.

  16. Coccinelle December 27, 2013 at 10:07 am #

    Oh my god I know that! But it’s so hard! Almost everyday I read an article saying how much pollutants you can drag indoors with your shoes and how much lead you little tot can ingest if he eats dirt/sand. I wonder how often the exposition to dirt is needed to boost the immune system because I don’t want to overdo it on the pollutants level. I’m trying to find a balance I guess, but I have no idea what I’m doing.

    I know that in Asian cultures, it’s widespread to remove your shoes before coming indoors so I try to not feel too guilty about that. As far as I know, they don’t have epidemic levels of asthma and allergies.

  17. Helen December 27, 2013 at 11:55 am #

    We were with some friends the other day when my 20-month-old daughter had a toy car in her mouth that had just been in our dog’s mouth a couple of minutes earlier. I didn’t rush to take it from her and I made a joke about building immunity. But in all seriousness, she has never been sick in her life, even though she goes to daycare and my husband and I just went through a nasty cold that didn’t even touch her. So it’s gotta make you wonder…

  18. Lynnie December 27, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    Slightly off the topic of children, but it applies. My whole family got sick within hours of each other a few days before Christmas. My son and I are pretty much over it. My husband, who is kinda germaphobic, is still sick. He is constantly washing his hands and doesn’t like touching animals and or anything like that. I am wondering if he perpetuated the sickness by being so clean.

  19. Papilio December 27, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    @Coccinelle: “I know that in Asian cultures, it’s widespread to remove your shoes before coming indoors so I try to not feel too guilty about that.”

    Which is relevant in those cultures because they pretty much live on the floor (eating, sleeping, etc), so of course they want to keep it as clean as possible. I assume you have furniture, so it’s far less necessary for you to take your shoes off (and how would that smell? 😉 ).

    @Renee: I ate cat food as a baby – I thought THAT was bad! 😀

    @vas: The other day I read an anecdote about a family with a son of 14 that moved from the Netherlands to the USA, after which the son got seriously depressed. He grew up in the bike culture here that allowed him to just hop on his bike and get himself to friends, school, cinema, shops etc etc etc – all of which changed after moving, since now he had to wait for a parent to ferry him around by car.

  20. SOA December 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    I am very against antibacterial soaps. Hand sanitizer has is uses for when you can’t get to a sink. That is about the only time we use it. For when you feel your hands need to be cleaned but don’t have a place to wash them.

    Rest of the time just good old plain soap and water does just fine. I hate antibacterial soaps. Its overkill.

    I worked at a daycare that made us use antibacterial soap and we had to wash our hands 1000 times a day according to the laws governing daycares. Wipe a kid’s nose, put on gloves then wash hands. Change a diaper, put on gloves and then wash the kids hands and then wash your hands. Get ready to eat, wash kids hands and your hands. Go outside, wash all kids hands and your hands when you come in.

    Yeah did not help. The kids were still sick constantly and so was I. In fact all the hand washing and wearing gloves was killing my hands. The skin on my hands was constantly red and falling off and bleeding. It looked horrible. I had a doctor write me a note saying I needed to just use regular soap instead of antibacterial and that would help some. They refused to let me. Said it had to be antibacterial. The parents started getting concerned when they saw how bad my hands looked. I think they were worried I was going to pass leprosy to their kids.

  21. Coccinelle December 27, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    @ Papilio

    I agree with you but it’s exactly what a crawler/toddler do, being on the floor often. Even older children often play on the floor. I don’t see why me having furniture changes anything. There are plenty of Asian households with furniture too.

    I also don’t understand what do you mean by smell. The smell of the recently worn shoes? Don’t tell me you never take your shoes off? Sorry, but I don’t understand.

  22. Warren December 28, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    For all the people afraid of the germs in a dog’s mouth, get over it. Bacteria wise, their mouth is cleaner than any humans. Human bites cause more and worse infections than dog bites.
    My kids shared ice cream cones with our dogs for years. They were kids, and prone to not worrying about unseen dangers. Not once did they get ill. The dogs on the other hand were not to good with the berry flavoured ice creams. But they survived.

    The only time we ever really were anal about washing hands after being with the dogs was when the dogs were dosed with flea/tick meds. As that can be transfered by touch, and cause complications. Other than that, we really didn’t care.

  23. Warren December 28, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    LOL, taking your footwear off in our home has nothing to do with germs or pollutants. You are just not scuffing up our marble, slate, hardwood and carpets. There is a big difference between dirt and damage.

  24. Dee December 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    Oh, yes! I totally agree! Interestingly, we have friends who are pretty free-range, but funny about dirt in their house. They make all guests take off shoes at the entrance. It’s not because they are neat and clean freaks (the opposite, actually) but because some practitioner warned them about bringing germs in the house. Can’t see the difference if they let their kids play outside! A mutual friend commented that it made no sense for her to have everyone take off their shoes since the dog obviously couldn’t! I find our family stays a lot healthier with our exposure to dirt!

  25. Papilio December 28, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    @Coccinelle: Of course I take off my shoes – that’s how I know what my socks smell like after a day of wearing shoes…!

    Millions of babies have survived the floors in their house, and I doubt everyone always took their shoes off (I won’t gross you out with stories about my father, but believe me, that guy is probably the best thing that ever happened to my immune system…). Besides, we’ve just seen a little dirt is GOOD for them, so I honestly don’t see why you would feel guilty about anything. If you really feel you don’t clean the floor often enough, there is always this:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/baby-mop_n_2117703.html 😉

  26. lollipoplover December 28, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    Dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. I’m sure the allergy police (hello Dolly) will be all over that one. Stronger immunity comes from more exposure to life in all forms. Bringing the outside world in and sharing your home with a once wild now domesticated animal open kids up to so much (and a lot of pet hair and mudddy paws).

    Free range wise, our kids have learned responsibility (controling dogs on leash, picking up turds) and walking the animals regularly gets them out and about in the neighborhood. My oldest has picked up dog sitting and walking jobs. He writes about them frequently for school assignments because he also hunts with them. Dogs, like kids, need stimulation and love play, lots of it. Kids and dogs tiring each other and playing outside? Can’t get more free range than that.

    My biggest gripe is the “No Dogs Allowed” signs at most playgrounds and all school grounds and hearing from way too many children (and parents) they afraid of dogs. Like, go the other way, we can’t share the same sidewalk afraid.
    My slobbery (though large) dogs are seriously the kindest, gentlest, most loving pets but aren’t allowed near places where my kids play. Yes, there are some bad dogs out there, just like there are bad people but we don’t have to ban them all.

  27. Jella December 28, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    my doctor told me that dog’s/cat’s saliva when they licked their fur is what triggers my asthma. i have recently downloaded a pdf guide with at home remedies for asthma with the things mostly found in your kitchen i dont know if anyone have tried them but its what i do now when my asthma attacks, i really love my dogs and it seems i cant live a day without playing with them

  28. Natalie December 29, 2013 at 7:19 am #

    I agree. I don’t understand the purell/handiwipe/anti-bacterial soap obsession.

    We don’t have dogs – too much responsibility, kids are enough. But I heartily agree with the premise of the article. More exposure to nature, not less!

    When I think of the things my girls would put in their mouth as toddlers… yeesh! Between dirt and daycare, my girls have immune systems much stronger than mine.

    That being said – no one knows why there’s an increase in allergies. Lots of conjecture. It’s been proven that those that already have asthma have far fewer attacks when milder cleaners are used (no bleach), Hepa vacuums are used, no pets, no candles/potpurri, etc.

  29. JaneW December 29, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    With a study like this, it’s tough to entirely control for the effects of parental allergies. The one thing we do know for sure about the development of allergies is that genetics play a big role, and allergic parents are less likely to have pets. Also, honestly, cleaning up after toddlers is enough work, I don’t want a pet, too.

    Of course, you can accomplish the same germ exposure by letting your kid crawl on the ground in a natural environment on a regular basis (yard or park should count) starting at just a few months old.

    (Keep in mind, virus exposure is not part of the hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to higher levels of common bacteria in the first year of life may protect against allergies. Exposure to viruses from other kids isn’t going to do it, and exposure to lots of viruses in the first few months can be quite bad for babies.)

    And I am so glad the FDA is finally taking a look at antibacterial soap. It doesn’t clean or sterilize any better than regular soap, and it’s not good for us or for the environment. What’s more, you sort of have no choice about using it. Every public washroom is stocked with antibacterial soap, so unless you want to carry your own bottle of regular liquid hand soap (which is almost impossible to find in a store) you wash with antibacterial or you hold it until you get home.

  30. Jenna K. January 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Well, we got our dog, a beagle, before our kids were born and he’s been around since. The kids climb on him, stick their hands in his mouth (and other places), fall into his messes, etc. Of course we clean them up afterwards, but our kids do not have allergies or asthma and are rarely sick. Of course they catch the occasional seasonal bug, but overall, they are quite healthy. Compare that to my husband’s siblings’ kids, who are all allergic to all animals and always sick. They don’t own pets. They were waiting until the kids were old enough to get pets, but now they can’t because of allergies. I wasn’t thrilled when we got our dog, having not been raised with animals myself (that and the fact that husband thought it would be a great Mother’s Day gift–a puppy–the first Mother’s Day after we were married), but he has turned out to be such a great blessing. As he ages and gets closer to when he will be gone, I wonder what the future will bring and realize he will leave a gaping hole when he is gone.