11 April 2017

RESEARCH - Exposure to Pets Boosts Immunity in Babies

Research from the University of Alberta (UofA) suggests having a dog early in life helps protect kids from allergies and obesity.

The study showed that babies from families with pets (70 per cent of which were dogs) showed higher levels of two microbes associated with lower risks of allergies and obesity.

The latest findings from Anita Kozyrskyj, a U of A pediatric epidemiologist, and her team builds on two decades of research that show children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma.

The researchers’ theory is that exposure to bacteria and dirt early in life can create early immunity.

However, they aren’t sure if the effect occurs from bacteria on the dog or from human transfer by touching the pets.

This new study takes the science one step closer to clarifying the connection by identifying that exposure to pets in the womb or up to three months after birth increases the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been linked with reduced childhood allergies and obesity, respectively.

“The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,” Kozyrskyj said in a UofA article, adding that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly - from dog to mother to unborn baby - during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby’s life.

While researchers can’t predict how their findings will play out in the future, they don’t rule out a “dog in a pill” to prevent obesity and allergies.

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

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