As if we need a reason to love our furry four-legged companions even more. A new study has found that pets decrease the chances that children will develop allergies and obesity in the future.
Exposure to pets while still in the womb to up to three months of age increases Ruminococcus and Oscillospira levels in babies. These two types of bacteria can stave off allergies and obesity.
This early exposure may boost immunity to the effects of dirt and bacteria. Pets usually track in dirt and bacteria on their paws and fur. They run around outside for much of the day and bring a lot of dirt with them. Thus, they're like a moving repository of all that good bacterial stuff. Researchers actually found that Ruminococcus and Oscillospira levels doubled in households with at least one pet.
To test the effect of pets on infants' immune systems, a team of researchers studied fecal matter from 24 four-month-old infants. 15 of these 24 infants lived with a dog or a cat.
The results of the test showed that these 15 babies had a diverse collection of microbes in their gut. A rich diversity of in the gut microbiome boosts immunity. The researchers expanded the study afterward to include 746 infants. 70% of the babies in the study who lived with a pet had a dog in the house. Over half were exposed to at least one pet while still in the womb.
Exposure to pets has a direct effect on the gut microbiome. The term “gut microbiome” refers to the microbes that we carry around in our gut. The gut microbiome starts to develop at birth. These microbes can lessen our chances of gaining weight, thus adversely affecting the development of obesity.
Previous research has also found that gut microbiota in newborns can cause the later development of allergies and asthma. However, this newer research has found that there is a “critical window” of time in which immunity in the gut and microbes develop together.
According to the researchers, pet exposure has an indirect impact on the gut microbiome. The effect may come from the animal to the mother, then to the fetus. It may also happen during the baby's first three months of life. Even prolonged exposure to a pet that a pregnant woman does not actually own can have a lasting effect.
If you live with a pet, then you already know that it's one of the best things ever. Pets can offer companionship, comfort, security, and even a little bit of entertainment. Now we know that they can give babies long-term immunity to allergies and even reduce their chances of developing obesity.
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