Pets Bring Beneficial Bacteria Into Homes

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When it comes to dogs, ‘man’s best friend’ is an understatement.

More and more research is emerging that shows not only do dogs provide loyal companionship, but also are good for our physical as well as mental health.

In fact, for most people, research shows that you probably should get that puppy your partner wants so badly. Even if she’s pregnant.

Credit: Normanack/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

In a study published in April in the journal Microbiome, the authors said, “The impact of pet ownership varies under different birth scenarios; however, in common, exposure to pets increased the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been associated with childhood atopy and obesity.”

Atopy manifests in illnesses such as allergies and asthma.

“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,” write the researchers. “Our findings highlighted the differential impact of pet exposure on infant gut microbiota following variant birth scenarios.”

The study examined 746 Canadian infants. “We observed higher overall species richness and changes to taxon abundance in gut microbiota of infants exposed to furry pets during pregnancy or continuing to the postnatal period,” the researchers explained.

Related: Pet Dogs Help Children Feel Less Stressed

Their findings also showed reduced risk for Streptococcus in infants in homes with pets.

The idea is that dogs introduce tiny bacteria into the home, which end up in our guts, and serve as a sort of vaccination against various ills. Not just dogs, but other animals, too.

In a recent New York Times piece, the author writes, “Dogs roll in the mud. They sniff feces and other questionable substances. Then they track countless germs into our homes on their paws, snouts, and fur.”

And that’s a good thing, conventional wisdom now holds.

A co-author of a study published last year told the New York Times that Amish children in Indiana who grew up with barnyard animals had lower rates of asthma than other children. “If we can’t bring our kids to the farm, maybe we can bring the farm to kids,” said Dr. Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Colorado.

Related: Your Household Pet Could Keep Your Child Healthy

Experts in the same story warn that some critters brought in by animals aren’t good for us. Among them: Turtles and frogs, which can carry salmonella on their skin.

And a dog or a cat can carry in anything at any time, even though most of the dangerous bacteria are rarely transmitted. Says the president of Veterinarians International in the New York Times piece: “Just wash your hands.”

The idea that exposure to dogs may protect kids against allergies first emerged in 2013, when a study on mice showed it might possible. At that time, Susan Lynch of the University of California, San Francisco said such studies eventually would be replicated in humans.

“It should be noted that there is a time-dependent component to the protective effect of furred pets,” Lynch stressed in an interview with Healthline News. “They tend to be protective if present early in life, so it is more complex than simply having a pet in the home – the timing of the pet exposure matters.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”