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Lifetime Dog and Cat Exposure and Dog and Cat Specific Sensitization at Age 18 Years

By Ganesa Wegienka, Christine Cole Johnson, Suzanne Havstad, Dennis R. Ownby, Charlotte Nicholas, Edward M. Zoratti

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Prior research about whether keeping a dog or cat in the home causes allergies to that pet has been limited to outcomes in early childhood.


Evaluate the association between lifetime dog and cat exposure and allergic sensitization to the specific animal at age 18 years.


Participants enrolled in the Detroit Childhood Allergy Study birth cohort in 1987–1989 were contacted at age 18 years. Sensitization to dog or cat was defined as animal-specific IgE ≥0.35 kU/L. Annual interview data from childhood and follow-up interviews at age 18 years were used to determine lifetime indoor dog and cat exposure (indoor defined as the animal spent >50% of their time in the home). Exposure was considered in various ways: first year, age groups and cumulative lifetime. Analyses were conducted separately for dogs and cats.


Among males, those with an indoor dog in the first year of life had half the risk (RR=0.50, 95% confidence Interval=CI 0.27, 0.92) of being sensitized to dogs at age 18 compared to those who did not have an indoor dog in the first year. This was also true for males and females born via c-section (RR=0.33, 95%CI 0.07, 0.97). Overall, teens with an indoor cat in the first year of life had decreased risk (RR=0.52, 95% CI 0.31, 0.90) of being sensitized to cats. Neither cumulative exposure nor exposure at any other particular age was associated with either outcome.

Conclusions and clinical relevance

The first year of life is the critical period during childhood when indoor exposure to dogs or cats influences sensitization to these animals.


Christopher C Charles

Purdue University

Date 2011
Publication Title Clinical And Experimental Allergy
Volume 41
Issue 7
Pages 979–986
ISBN/ISSN 1365-2222
Publisher John Wiley & Sons Ltd
DOI 10.1111/j.1365-2222.2011.03747.x
URL https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737566/
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Allergy
  2. Cats
  3. Desensitization
  4. Dogs
  5. Health
  6. Immune sensitization
  7. Immunology
  8. Mammals
  9. Pet ownership
  10. Physical environment