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If eczema runs in your family, you may be well advised to pick a dog rather than a cat for a pet.

A new study looked at young children who have at least one parent with eczema, a chronic and often irritating skin condition. At age 1, the kids were tested to see if they were prone to dog or cat allergies - which can be harbingers of other allergic-related conditions to come. They were then observed for several years.

The researchers found that kids who tested positive for dog allergies were less likely to develop eczema by age 4 if the family owned a dog. In fact, if they didn't have a dog, they were four times more likely to get eczema, according to the findings published in The Journal of Pediatrics.

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But having a pet cat appears to be detrimental, boosting the odds of the skin disorder in some kids, said Tolly Epstein, the lead researcher at the University of Cincinnati. Children who were allergic to cats, based on a skin allergy test, were 13 times more likely to develop eczema by age 4 if they had a cat in the house.

The researchers don't know why dogs and cats provoke opposite reactions. Obviously, the allergy-triggering proteins shed by the animals are different. Exposure to dogs at an early age seems to build up a level of tolerance to certain allergens and helps head off eczema. Children of cat families aren't so lucky.

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