Copenhagen study: Getting family cat could prevent asthma

Owning a cat can help prevent high risk children from developing asthma, a new study suggests.  

Contrary to popular belief, a cat in the house is good for infants born with a gene that makes them more susceptible to the condition.

Many parents assume the allergens from pet hairs are responsible for their children contracting the breathing problems associated with asthma. 

But it seems that the reverse is true, Danish scientists claim. ‘Early exposure’ to these allergens could help prevent the ailment developing.

However, researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s specialist childhood asthma research facility found no benefits for owning a dog.

Contrary to popular belief, a cat in the house is good for infants born with a gene that makes them more susceptible to the condition

How was the study carried out?

They looked at 377 child sufferers, monitoring them from a year to five years old in the study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunilogy. 

They were assessed depending on their genetic risk, and if they were exposed to cats or dogs in their house. 

There is a genetic variant, called a TT genotype, which is associated with a higher risk of asthma and related illnesses such as pneumonia and forms of bronchitis. 

What did they find?

Having a cat made little difference to children with a low risk of asthma, lead author Dr Jakob Stokholm discovered.

However, the chances of getting asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis were ‘inversely associated’ among the TT genotype kids.

In other words, the higher the risk of getting asthma, the more benefit owning a cat would have. 


Obesity causes asthma symptoms in children to worsen, a Japanese study found last month.

Researchers studied the records of nearly 40,000 Japanese children who have asthma.

They found those who were obese had to be hospitalized more often because of their asthma.

They also had to spend longer periods of time in the hospital, according to the scientists.

The analysis serves as a warning that obese people have higher chances of dying from an array of fatal conditions.

The findings were published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. 

The authors said: ‘Cat and dog exposure has generally been suspected to increase the risk of childhood asthma but studies have been inconsistent.

‘We found a consistently lower risk of asthma after cat exposure among children with the high-risk TT genotype.’

Writing in the journal, they added: ‘We found no individual effect from dog exposure in the allergen analyses.’

The results suggest having a cat in the home could be a way of lowering the risk of asthma among children who are, genetically, most at risk.

Exposure to cats early in childhood have a greater benefit than later in life, the report said, particularly if the exposure happens in the first 12 years of childhood. 

How do cats help? 

It is believed that exposure to the allergens in cat hair helps bolster a child’s immune system as it develops, rather than as an adult when it is fully formed. 

The reason cats are more effective than dogs is possibly because they are more likely to have contact with a child’s bed than dogs.

However, allergens from both were found on bedding in the study, the researchers noted.

Rates of asthma – caused by inflammation of the air passages – have been growing during the past decade, affecting more than eight per cent of children.

An increases in air pollution is often blamed, but part of the reason could be better diagnostic methods now in use.