I've heard from three very reputable physicians, two of which are pediatricians, that cats can cause respiratory problems in babies. We are obviously concerned because we have three cats and a 3 month old baby. If the risk of respiratory illness is real and significant, as the physicians have suggested, we are considering finding other and better homes for the cats.

That being said, the internet does not appear to be a good source for authoritative opinion on this topic, with search results typically returning the ramblings of those with no qualifications to give an expert opinion or at the other extreme complex scientific studies the conclusion of which isn't particularly clear.

It looks like the risks with cats are:

  • increased likelihood of allergies (up 50%)
  • increased risk of eczema
  • a number of diseases (toxomoplasis, ringworm, etc.) - low risk unless cats are infected
  • "cat scratch" disease

Here's a choice quote "Cats release an allergen, fel d 1, into the environment which can provoke and worsen asthma. Similarly, dogs, too, release an antigen. These are two of the commonest antigens involved in childhood allergic diseases. 66% of children sensitised to cat antigen have been found to have either asthma, eczema, or rhinitis."

I'd like to have an authoritative reference about what risks are associated with keeping cats and having babies, and what the 'level' (if you will) of that risk is.

Thank you for reading.


asked 29 Nov '10, 15:57

Brian%20M's gravatar image

Brian M
accept rate: 0%


+1 Excellent question. Anecdotely we have a dog and a healthy two year old and have friends with cats or dogs, or both with healthy babies and children as well. However, that doesn't meant that some children can or won't be adversely affected.

(29 Nov '10, 16:22) Tammy ♦♦

Anecdotal too, but being exposed to "nature" is actually good for kids. They need to be exposed to the environment to develop their immune system. We didn't have cats or dogs, but the neighbors had a dog and hung out at their place a lot as a kid. I was also up to my elbows in mud all the time. No allergies whatsoever, even though I was probably exposed to almost every allergen you could find in some encyclopedia. That said, that's just me and if you doctor finds that your child is sensitive, then you should be concerned. But why not just test him instead of guessing.

(30 Nov '10, 00:53) Alexander

More anecodatal, on nature and allergies: I grew up in the countryside; never had hay fever until we moved to a big city. Go figure.

(30 Nov '10, 07:50) Benjol

You don't give a specific citation for the claim that cats and dogs increase the chances of allergies. But there are reputable (i.e., scientific, peer-reviewed) studies that claim exactly the opposite. Here's one reference from a reputable web site.

More generally, a lot of people subscribe to the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that increased allergy and asthma rates today might be due to not having enough challenges to our immune system -- i.e., having children in too sterile an environment -- and there is increasing research starting to back this up. See the link earlier in this paragraph for further references and explanation.


answered 30 Nov '10, 07:27

lgritz's gravatar image

accept rate: 14%

I too was under the impression that pets may protect children from allergies. Thanks for finding a good reference to it.

(01 Dec '10, 02:34) Phil

Here's a link from Sick Kids in Toronto, it's about as authoritative as I could get AboutKidsHealth Children Pets and Allergies

Basically, if your child is prone to Asthma, then yes, having pets in your house could make the problem much worse, but if they arn't, it's not a problem at all (and may help prevent allergies). Unfortunately, the medical community has no idea what causeses some people to develope allergies or asthma (other than a genetic tendency) so absolute numbers are impossible to come by.

I think a really relevant quote from the link is;

Sharon Dell, a staff respirologist and asthma specialist at The Hospital for Sick Children, notes that it is important to distinguish between trying to prevent symptoms or exacerbations of asthma and allergies, and trying to prevent children from developing asthma and allergies to start with. While the evidence is very clear-cut for the first, it is inconclusive for the second.

"If you have asthma and you are sensitized to a pet, especially a cat, there is no doubt that it will be very bad for you to have a cat in the house," she says. "Where there is lots of controversy is in the area of primary prevention. If you have a pet in your home, are you less likely to develop asthma? I think the jury's still out -- there isn't enough data to say one way or the other."

So, I would say that unless your baby is diagnosed with Asthma, you don't need to get rid of your cats.

I'd also like to add, that if your child is diagnosed with Asthma, wait until you see a Respirologist and have the type of Asthma determined before you give away your pets and start ripping up carpets and doing major renovations on your house. My second oldest was diagnosed with Asthma when he was 3 and we were told that that was what we would need to do. After he saw a Repirologist it was determined that he had what is known as "Event triggered Asthma" which meant that his Asthma wasn't triggered by allergies, but by viral infections and other than nagging him to wash his hands no major changes were needed in his enviornment. He compeletely grew out of his symptoms by the time he was 10.


answered 30 Nov '10, 14:39

Neen's gravatar image

accept rate: 30%


+1 I totally agree with determining the type of Asthma. I was diagnosed with Asthma around 11. It turns out I have activity induced ashtma, so even though I was always an active kid, when pushed to far I would have an attack. It is also triggered by extreme temperatures, or viruses; however, we've always had a pet and they have never affected my breathing.

(30 Nov '10, 15:11) Tammy ♦♦

We've always had pets too, at least 2 cats and usually at least one dog (either at their Dad's or my house, for most of the time the boys were growing up, both houses), and the animals never affected Connor either. I've developed an allergy to the cat's however, but as long as I remember to shut my bedroom door so they don't actually sleep on my bed, it's not a problem. (I'm like Benjol, while I lived on the farm growing up I had no allergies at all, after I moved to the city as an adult I developed a bunch of them!)

(02 Dec '10, 14:54) Neen

I have a cat and two kids. We got the cat when the first was 2 and the second had not yet been conceived. So far, neither child has had any health problems due to a cat in the house.

In addition, my husband and I both grew up with dogs and cats, neither of us nor any of our siblings have eczema or allergies to animals. The only dander allergy in the family is a brother-in-law who is allergic to cats, but he grew up in a house without cats so they can't be the cause.

Finally, when I was pregnant with our second child, I talked to our vet about the risk of toxoplasmosis. He said that if we scoop the litter box daily the risk is practically nil.


answered 30 Nov '10, 00:45

mkcoehoorn's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

edited 30 Nov '10, 15:12

Tammy's gravatar image

Tammy ♦♦

In regards to toxoplasmosis, even if the risk is tiny I would be careful, especially since it's easy enough to avoid. I once worked with a child who had toxoplasmosis and it can be devastating.

(30 Nov '10, 15:14) Tammy ♦♦

When we got the cat the deal was that my husband would be the only one to mess with the litter box until I hit menopause or became surgically sterile, and the kids were old enough to know not to play in it.

(30 Nov '10, 22:20) mkcoehoorn
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Asked: 29 Nov '10, 15:57

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Last updated: 30 Nov '10, 15:12