Newly published research shows that exposure to cats and dogs within the first year of a child’s life may reduce the risk of later allergies, countering previously published studies. This is wonderful news for me because it means that I can finally stop worrying about the balls of animal hair that roll across my laminate floors like suburban tumbleweed.
Before our son was born, my husband and I were the very happy and proud parents of three cats and a dog. We loved them with all the strength of our pumping hearts, but our laziness prevented us from doing any of the standard pet grooming. Brushing? Just give the cat some “rough pets” and watch the hair fly off. Nail trimming? How about instead we take a long walk on the cement and wear those suckers down a little. Needless to say, “keeping house” is not something that either of us really took too seriously.
Then we became parents. I’d like to say that this transformation whipped us into shape and suddenly we were disinfecting our home’s hard surfaces and steam cleaning the fabrics. Instead, we’ve chosen to embrace the hygiene hypothesis with open, and cat-hair-covered, arms.
Previously, when our family members asked if we were going to cull the herd in preparation for our coming child, I mumbled something about how the commitment that we made to our four-legged friends was a commitment for life. But, now I am backed up by epidemiology. I no longer have to clean the various fibers and animal hairs from the webbing between my four-month-old’s fingers and toes in the secrecy of our home. Now I can do so in broad daylight, bite my thumb at judgmental neatniks, and explain that I’m doing my duty as a parent by preventing him from suffering from animal allergies down the road. Thank you science!