Your Household Pet Could Keep Your Child Healthy

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Remember that animal you saw online that was up for adoption? You might want to look into that, as it could be beneficial for your health and your future children — literally.

Scientists from the University of Alberta found that exposure to household pets, especially the furry kind, can reduce the risk for developing allergies and obesity for infants. The researchers believe immunity can be helped through the gut’s microbiome.

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“There’s definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity,” said Anita Kozyrskyj, a U of A pediatric epidemiologist and one of the world’s leading researchers on gut microbes, in a press release.

Microbes, or bacteria that live in the digestive tracts of humans and animals, can be influenced by pet exposure, even while in the womb. The authors said pet exposure to reduce health risks is especially helpful for infants following Cesarean (C-section) delivery.

The study used a subsample of data from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) in which they assessed information from 746 infants. Mothers who were pregnant between 2009 and 2012 were asked to report on their household pet ownership during their second and third trimesters as well as three months postpartum.

Related: The Role Pets Play in Managing Our Mental Health

More than half of the infants in the study were exposed to some kind of furry pet during prenatal and/or postnatal periods of time. Of the two specific bacteria, known as Oscillospira or Ruminococcus and Streptococcaceae, Kozyrskyj said, “The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house.”

Kozyrskyj also said that pet exposure indirectly affects the gut microbiome during the mother’s pregnancy and through an infant’s first three months. Both of the bacterium have been negatively associated with childhood allergy development and obesity, the authors said.

Other bacteria were found in association with pet exposure. A high number of Vellionellaceae and Lachnospiraceae were found in infants who had prenatal pet exposure, but weakened over time during the postnatal period.

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Both pre- and postnatal pet ownership was linked to increases in bacteria species of Firmicutes and Verrucomicrobiaceae in infants, the authors said. An infant’s gut health can be influenced by many factors, including age, the way a baby is delivered, diet and antibiotic treatment, the study said.

“With increasing ownership of pets in our modern lifestyle and reports of their beneficial effects, the question of pet ownership is becoming a common one for pregnant women,” the authors wrote. “Our findings highlighted the differential impact of pet exposure on infant gut microbiota following variant birth scenarios.”

Related: Your Microbiome is a ‘Sexy’ Topic for These Leading Doctors on Gut Health

There has already been a response to a wide range of research that associated infant probiotics with a healthy baby. Infant companies have developed new probiotic lines to match consumer demands, and a new supplement wouldn’t be surprising, Kozyrskyj said.

“It’s not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics,” she said.

Scientists from the University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Manitoba and CHILD study investigators contributed to the study.

Tori Linville
Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.