I was excited to come across an article citing new research investigating the positive effect having pets in the home could have on human immune systems. As I shared before in a previous post, having a pet is good for your health in more ways than one. We release endorphins when we pet them — in other words, they make us happy and help relieve us from stress.
This research focuses on bacteria. With so much light being shed on the importance of the microbiome to our overall health and wellbeing, it makes sense that researching pet bacteria is on the horizon. After all, bacterial DNA on the human body has been said to outnumber human DNA 10 to 1.
“Recent studies link early exposure to pets to decreased prevalence of allergies, respiratory conditions and other immune disorders in later stages of development, and skin microbes in particular are now receiving more focus as important players in immune regulation.” (source) It make sense that there could be a potentially important relationship between our health and the bugs our furry friends carry with them — especially if they’re laying where we lay (or on us in some cases), and if we love to pet them and hug them all the time.
According to Kim Kelly, the program coordinator at the Human Animal Research Initiative, the question is about the probiotic effect. “Our question then became is there something in the transfer of these microbes between dogs and humans that is actually making us healthier?” (source)
The Good Bugs
Research already shows that households with pets have greater bacterial diversity, a good thing when it comes to developing a strong, healthy immune system, but the dog-specific effect is showing to be most significant. “Pillowcases and TV screens of dog-owning families had 42 percent and 52 percent more microbial groups, respectively, than pillowcases and TV screens of non-dog-owning families. This extra diversity, unsurprisingly, was made up largely of bacteria known to live on dog fur.” (source)
Back to Gut Health
Science and medicine are increasingly revealing the link between gut health and chronic diseases — including stress, depression, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, and autoimmune diseases to name a few. Determining the role that adding beneficial bacteria to the home environment could have on such problems would be a major breakthrough. “We think dogs might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria, or ‘microbiota,’ are increasingly recognized as playing an essential role in our mental and physical health, especially as we age,” Dr. Charles Raison (source)
Click here to learn more about the importance of gut health in our overall wellbeing.