If you need a reason to become a dog lover, how about their ability to help protect children from allergies and obesity? According to a new study, your baby could benefit from the presence of a pet in your home. The research shows that babies from families with furry pets, mostly dogs, have higher levels of friendly gut bacteria associated with lower risks of obesity and allergies. Keeping a dog during pregnancy and after birth can boost your child’s immune system.
Ruminococcus and Oscillospira are friendly bacteria that live in the digestive system of humans and animals. They can be passed from pets to humans when living in the same environment. The research, conducted at Canada’s University of Alberta shows that having a dog around during pregnancy and 3 months after birth is beneficial to the baby by increasing the numbers of those two bacteria. Previous studies have already linked Ruminococcus to a lower risk of allergies, while Oscillospira has been related to a reduced obesity risk.
The study was conducted on 746 infants born between 2009 and 2012. The researchers found that infants exposed to furry animals before and after birth had twice the amount of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira in their guts, compared with infants not exposed to household pets. “The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,” according to lead author Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist.
The theory is that exposure to dirt and bacteria early in life—for example, in a dog’s fur and on its paws—can create early immunity, though researchers aren’t sure whether the effect occurs from bacteria on the furry friends or from human transfer by touching the pets.
It’s not the first time that pets have shown to be beneficial to children. One previous study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggested that dog exposure during the first year of life could reduce the risk of asthma in later life.
Our furry friends, already present in millions of American homes, are once again stealing the show.