Having a cat about the house can prevent asthma developing, Danish research shows

Cats are not just cute and cuddly – they can also contribute to keeping some children healthy

Various diseases in our bodies can be activated or deactivated by the environment around us. New research shows that in homes where there is a cat in residence, children born there have a much smaller chance of developing asthma, reports Videnskab.dk

A group of Danish researchers from Dansk BørneAstma Center, a children’s asthma centre in Gentofte, and the University of Copenhagen led by Professor Hans Bisgaard have studied data from 377 children born to mothers with asthma.

Dogs don’t cut it
The children’s genes have been mapped, and throughout their childhood researchers have gathered data on their surroundings. The results show that cats neutralise the increased risk of asthma developing in children who have a specific genetic variant. Oddly enough, having a dog doesn’t have the same effect.

As if that was not enough, the researchers found that cats also offer protection against lung infections and respiratory infections such as bronchitis in small children.

Arne Høst from the University of Southern Denmark, who is also researching into asthma and lung disease but was not part of the study, is excited by the findings.

“It’s a very thorough study and they’ve looked at many factors, so it’s very plausible that this is the way things are connected. It’s very exciting that they’ve discovered this connection because in other studies it has been difficult to come to any concrete conclusions.”

Further studies needed
Holst would like to see the results confirmed by further studies, as would Tove Fall, another researcher at Uppsala University in Sweden. She has previously done work on the connection between animals and human disease and has looked for a connection in large groups rather than on individuals.

“The study is thorough, and the results are very interesting. If the same thing happens in follow-up studies, it would be interesting to find out what type of childhood exposure to cats minimises the risk of asthma among the bearers of these genes,” said Fall.

There are still a number of unanswered questions. For example, does the breed of cat make a difference – or the sex of cat? Is the cat kept indoors or does it go out? Should the child cuddle the cat a lot or even sleep with it to benefit or is it enough that the cat is just in the home?

In other words, there are still a lot of unknowns before getting a cat could be recommended as a solution to risk-prone families.