Young boy and puppy

An old Mexican folk remedy for a child’s asthma is to adopt a Chihuahua. Most experts have long categorized this idea as an old wives’ tale that has no basis in science.

Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that living with dogs might indeed offer some protection against allergic airway disease. The research was conducted in mice rather than human children, though.

Alterations in Intestinal Bacteria and Immune Systems:

Animals exposed to dust from houses in which dogs lived had changes in their intestinal flora, their immune systems and their response to airway allergens. The researchers identified Lactobacillus johnsonii as a pivotal species in the gut ecosystem that helps reduce an asthma-like response to allergic or infectious challenges. So perhaps the old Mexican wives were not completely off base after all.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Dec. 16, 2013

The Hygiene Hypothesis:

This research offers a possible mechanism for the so-called hygiene hypothesis, an observation that kids living with dogs and other animals on farms are less likely to develop allergies, eczema and asthma than children in very clean urban environments.

Evidence from Finland:

Earlier research also pointed in this direction. A study from Finland offers some intriguing evidence that living with dogs might help children stay healthy.

The researchers collected parents’ diaries on the health of nearly 400 infants born in the Kuopio University Hospital. During the first year, quite a few of the babies developed colds, coughs, fevers or ear infections. But infants in the families with dogs were 29 percent less likely to need treatment with an antibiotic and 44 percent less likely to come down with an inner ear infection.

Previous studies have shown that children exposed to farm animals as babies are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. This study reinforces the concept that early exposure to some types of bacteria, especially those associated with animals, can help the immune system develop properly.

Pediatrics, July, 2012

For a completely different perspective on asthma, we recommend A Cure for Asthma? What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You–and Why by Dr. David Hahn (published by People’s Pharmacy Press).

Those who are interested more generally in how dogs and other animals play a role in human health may wish to listen to our radio show #1028 on how animals can help us heal.

This article was updated on  3/17/16

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  1. Connie

    When our dog had been dead for several months and her dander/fur, etc. was no longer an issue in our home, two of my asthmatics began to breathe better.

  2. Larry M
    Raleigh, NC

    I grew up with multiple dogs (not Chihuahuas) in the house and had severe asthma with regular hospitalizations. Fortunately, the asthma went away when I reached puberty.

    So if there’s anything to this, don’t try Cocker spaniels or German shepherds. Try a real Chihuahua

  3. MJWilkie

    I think it’s time to replace “old wives’ tales” with a phrase such as “folk remedy,” some of which have value and some of which do not. Why blame the women? And I remember reading once that in colonial America, mothers kept a crust of moldy bread on hand for colds and flu. This was long before penicillin was “discovered.”

  4. Cindy M. B.

    I have always believed that the frequency, intensity and duration of asthma attacks, as with so many other maladies, is mediated in large part by anxiety; it’s the old mind/body connection. It’s been proven time and again, and is also supported by massive anecdotal evidence, that animals reduce anxiety and increase happiness. Similarly, animals can also enhance cancer survival rates, etc. I have many animals (which I happily share germs with including kissing them copiously) and I never get sick. Voila.

  5. Barbara

    Hogwash, or should I saw, dogwash!
    Who could believe mice do well with a chihuahua, and a child would too. This is foolishness.
    I am getting tired of reading nonsense. My New Year’s resolution is to get rid of reading and viewing time wasting “news.” Today I am getting rid of cable tv. Instead of saying “peace out,” try saying “peace in,” and only let reason and peace into your ears and brain.

  6. Donnie

    My parents and our family, and my grandparents all lived on farms and we had dogs, cats and farm animals. Many of us have asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Same for my son, and my brothers family, cousins, etc. Those disorders run in my family on both sides, going back several generations.
    The too clean theory is a bunch of bunk for the most part. People who use toxic cleaning products probably are making themselves and their families sick, though. Those are an assault on our immune and respiratoy systems. If that is a factor, and it is likely to be, then doctors should say so.
    Blame the chemicals, not the parents for being ‘too’ clean. Misleading information helps no one. I have to avoid using chemical cleaning products, because they make me sick. And so does my son and other family members. I’ve been with dogs all of my life, and am not allergic to them. None of my family have ever been allergic to dogs.

  7. GA

    My parents believed this and, because I had asthma, we always had chihuahua dogs. It did not work. Another home remedy my parents tried was a concoction of cod liver oil, whiskey, and rock candy. The cod liver oil rose to the top, the rock candy sank to the bottom. It was awful and that didn’t work either.

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