Babies May be Healthier with a Pet


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Have a baby? What you need next is a pet and a good pediatrician. And with the pet you may not need that pediatrician quite as often.

Increasingly, studies support the theory that a dog or cat in the home improves the human microbiome, particularly babies, and therefore improve their immune systems.

According to the Center for Ecogenics and Environmental Health, humans are mostly microbes, over 100 trillion of them. Microbes outnumber our human cells ten to one. The majority live in our gut, particularly in the large intestine The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside the human body. Between 500 and 1,000 species of microbes live inside the human gut.

Scientists increasingly believe what’s in your gut plays an important role in the immune system.

Studies show that the diversity of the types of microbes matter and that a person’s environment can have an important impact on that diversity. Where you live on the planet and your day to day exposure impact your microbiome. Live in Rio de Janeiro or Mumbai or New Orleans, your microbiome will be different. But also the micro-environment matters too – like your own home and who’s there, including a family pet.

When Americans, in particular, began to spend more time secluded indoors, with a goal of bringing up babies germ-free – have we actually done ourselves more harm than good? Certainly some allergies and illnesses occur far more in America than say Rio de Janeiro or Mumbai.

So, how can pets help?

For one thing, those you spend time with – lots is shared, including your microbiome. That includes all who live in the home, including the dog or cat.

Last year, a Canadian study showed that infants living with either a dog or cat had a more diverse group of microbes in their guts, compared with infants that did not live with a dog or cat. Those with the greater diversity were more likely to have a type of bacteria that appears associated with fewer cases of allergies and obesity, and possibly even other illnesses later in life, including immune associated disease.

Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by seven years of age, according to new research supported by the National Institutes of Health reveals. The findings, published September 19 2017 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, may provide clues for the design of strategies to prevent asthma from developing.

While previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma, the new findings suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect. The observations come from the ongoing Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma (URECA—pronounced “Eureka”) study, which is funded by NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) through its Inner-City Asthma Consortium.

Another study demonstrated what famers have taken for granted forever, that living on farms may help pregnant women’s growing babies, which has led scientists to theorize that living with a dog can help a baby’s immune system even in the womb. For example, a 2009 study in Europe showed that the umbilical cord blood in pregnant women with farm exposure had more active neonatal immune cells.

We know that growing up with a least one pet has many other benefits, one example, children with pets are more empathetic.

However, research is now starting to show there are unexpected medical benefits as well. If you’re concerned about hygiene, consider that apparently some dirt and germs, isn’t all bad. What’s more, consider that people and dogs have lived side by side, literally co-evolving for around 40,000 years.

 

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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