Newborn babies may be protected against developing asthma and other respiratory conditions by having a cat in the household, new research suggests.
There is a gene that, when activated, doubles the risk of a child developing asthma. However having a cat in the home when a child is born stops that gene from being activated, according to researchers from the Copenhagen Studies on Asthma in Childhood Research Center (COPSAC).
Hans Bisgaard, professor of paediatrics and the head of COPSAC, has called this discovery “a recognition in the direction of how disease occurs”.
“It documents the interplay between genetics and the environment we live in, and in particular that this occurs very early in life, both during pregnancy and in the home,” he said.
The scientists behind the study have confirmed that dogs do not have the same effect.
The researchers collected data from 377 Danish children and mapped their genes, taking into account their upbringing and surroundings, including the presence of any feline friends.
They found that the protection that the cats provide also applies against pneumonia and bronchitis.
But at this point, it’s not clear exactly how cats influence our genes.
The author of the study, Jacob Stokholm, has speculated that it could be due to the fungi or viruses cats bring into the home from outside, or possibly the bacteria that they carry themselves, which influence our immune systems.
And sadly, it’s not all good news for feline fans, an earlier study from COPSAC showed that cats activate a gene that triggers eczema in children.