Not only does growing up with pets teach children empathy and responsibility, but it also evidently comes with legitimate health benefits - specifically when it comes to preventing common childhood allergies such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.
Several studies have already shown that owning a pet earlier in life is extremely likely to protect you from childhood allergies down the road. However, Bill Hesselmar, researcher at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, wanted to find out if having more than one pet - referred to as a "dose-response" - would actually increase these chances.
Hesselmar and his colleagues examined data from two previous studies. The first study, which followed 1,029 children aged seven to eight, reported allergies in 49 per cent of children who spent the first year of their lives in a home with no pets. This number dropped to 43 per cent in children who lived with one pet, and even further to 24 per cent in children who lived with three pets.
The second study, although smaller, produced strikingly similar findings. It followed 249 children from birth until eight or nine years old. A total of 48 per cent of children who had no exposure to pets during the first 12 months reported allergies, compared to 35 per cent who were exposed to one pet. Predictably, the group that lived with two or more pets - 21 per cent - had the lowest incidence of allergies.
Hesselmar and his team concluded that these results indicate that more exposure to pets means more protection from allergies - what they call a "dose-dependent" relationship. Hesselmar noted that this is very much dependent on contact with the child.
"A dog or a cat that is seldom inside the house, or seldom in close contact with the child, may not be protective," he said.
Hesselmar uses the term "mini-farm" frequently in his report, suggesting that having multiple pets is akin to living on a small farm - which, naturally, would expose you to a host of different kinds of allergens. He believes that pets carry microbes (microscopic organisms) that trigger the immune system so that children do not react to allergens.
This recent report is just one of the many ways science is meeting the rising incidence of allergies head-on. Another study by researchers in the US and Japan recently demonstrated how allergy shots given during pregnancy could be the key to preventing unborn offspring from developing allergies after birth.