EDMONTON, Alberta — Children born into a house with pets are more likely to be immune to certain allergies and less likely to be obese, a new study finds.
Researchers from the University of Alberta discovered that babies in homes with pets had greater levels of “gut microbes” that prevent allergic disease and obesity. This was especially true in households with dogs, which accounted for 70 percent of the participants.
Gut microbes are identified as “microorganisms or bacteria that live in the digestive tracts of humans and animals,” according to a university release.
But the team warned that the benefits identified for the children in the study occurred when they were exposed to pets during a certain timetable early in their lives.
“There’s definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity,” says Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist at the university and one of the world’s leading researchers on gut microbes, in the news release.
The study examined fecal samples from babies who are part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, which is comprised of 3,500 children born after 2010. The study monitors the children to help figure out the various genetic and environmental influences that may lead to allergies and asthma.
Prior research has found that children in homes with dogs are less likely to be asthmatic because of their exposure to bacteria carried by the pets in their fur or on their paws.
Kozyrskyj and her team discovered that babies exposed to pets in the womb or up to three months after birth showed greater levels of two types of bacteria — Ruminococcus and Oscillospira — that may help reduce risk of allergies and obesity.
“The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,” says Kozyrskyj.
The study also showed that having pets in the home during later stages of pregnancy may reduce the chances of the mother contracting or transmitting a strain of vaginal strep known to cause pneumonia in newborns.
Kozyrskyj predicts that the findings could lead to what she refers to as a “dog in a pill” to benefit those who don’t have pets.
“It’s not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics,” she says.
The study was published in the journal Microbiome, along with an editorial in Nature.