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People Exposed To Pets From An Early Age Are Less Likely To Be Obese And Have Fewer Allergies
A new study has found that being exposed to pets from a young age lowers the risk of obesity and results in fewer allergies.
Scientists say that dogs, in particular, expose children to dirt and bacteria early in life, which creates early immunity.
The study, conducted at the University of Alberta, in Canada, looked at more than 700 infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study, whose mothers were enrolled during pregnancy between 2009 and 2012.
The mothers were asked to report on whether they owned a pet at enrollment, during the second or third trimester, and three months after birth.
Infant gut microbiotas were studied from faecal samples collected around three months old.
The researchers compared whether the babies were exposed only during pregnancy, or both pre- and postnatally, to no pet exposure.
Over half of the studied infants were exposed to at least one furry pet in the pre- and/or postnatal periods - 70 percent being dogs.
Researchers found that pre- and postnatal pet exposure enriched the amount of two types of bacteria in the gut with more than a twofold greater likelihood of high abundance.
Ruminococcus and Oscillospira have been linked with reducing childhood allergies and obesity, respectively.
'The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,' said Dr Anita Kozyrskyj, a University of Alberta paediatric epidemiologist.
She added that 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.
In other words, even if the dog had been given away for adoption just before the mother gave birth, the healthy microbiome exchange could still take place.
The study also found that having pets at home reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth.
The bacteria can cause pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving antibiotics to the mother during delivery.
Past research has found that pets are beneficial to human health in a number of ways.
Several studies have shown spending just a few minutes with a furry friend can lower anxiety and blood pressure and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play roles in producing feelings of calm and well-being.
And a study from the American Psychological Association found that pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to the doctor.
Although the researchers say it's too early to predict how the findings will play a role in the future, Dr Kozyrskyj doesn't rule out the concept of a 'dog in a pill' as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity.
'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 said.
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