Although allergies are not an infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to people, many a household is declared a “pet-free zone” because one or more of the people who live there is allergic to our furry friends. But for many others, the itchy, watery eyes, sniffles and constant need for antihistamines are a small price to pay for the companionship of their beloved pets.

It’s estimated that as many as 15% of people are allergic to pets such as dogs and cats. But a new study from Germany has come out that shows that having Fido around when you’re very young may actually help decrease the likelihood that you’ll develop allergies later on. In the study, infants who lived in a house with a dog were less likely to develop allergies to things in the air such as pollen and dust by the time they were six years old, compared to children that did not live with a dog. This may be because having a dog around exposes an infant to certain allergens that help “train” the immune system from an early age not to over-react and therefore cause allergies. There was no significant difference in the likelihood that a child would develop allergies specifically to dogs between the two groups.

The American Kennel Club lists several dog breeds that tend to cause fewer problems for people with allergies. But in truth there is no such thing as an non-allergenic dog (or cat) – it’s a matter of degree, and also depends very much on an individual person’s immune system, and your symptoms may also depend on how many other allergens you are exposed to at the same time. Most adults cannot be “cured” or their allergies, but if you have allergies and suspect that your pet may be contributing to them, talk to your doctor about things you can do to try to reduce your symptoms to a more liveable level.