Sorry, dog lovers, but cats have the upper hand — or paw? — in at least one category.
Growing up with cats in the house can make toddlers substantially less likely to develop asthma and other respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia, according to a new study from Danish researchers, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology in October.
Living in a house with dogs, the study found, didn’t have the same helpful effect.
Researchers mapped the genes and noted the surroundings of 377 Danish kids, the study authors said. And what they concluded is that kids who grew up around cats were markedly less likely to develop a gene variation that — when activated — doubles a child’s risk of becoming asthmatic, researchers said.
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About 1 in every 12 Americans has asthma, a lifelong disease that causes wheezing, chest tightness and coughing in those who have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 25 million people in the U.S. alone, and the number is growing every year, the CDC reports.
Asthma is a dangerous, expensive problem: Medical costs, lost school and work days and early deaths that asthma causes in the U.S. cost the country $56 billion a year, according to the CDC. And asthma’s staggering cost helps explain why researchers are so interested in finding ways to stop it.
But how can a cat’s mere presence ward off asthma? Researchers are still trying to figure that part out.
It could be that cats are bringing helpful bacteria, fungi or viruses into the home and exposing children to them, Jakob Stokholm, who led the Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood Research Center study, told The Telegraph.
The research is especially important because it demonstrates the interplay between early life environments and gene behavior and expression, researchers told the Telegraph.
“Now it looks like the effect is linked to a particular gene-variant, which goes to show just how complex the development of asthma and allergies are,” Arne Høst, who co-led the research with Stokholm, said in an interview with the Telegraph. “It’s not only about genes and the environment, but how the two interact, and there’s so much that we still don’t know.”
But dog lovers can take comfort knowing that cats don’t cure everything.
An earlier study produced by the same researchers revealed that cat exposure can activate another gene in children — one that increases their risk of developing eczema, according to the Huffington Post.