There may be another good reason (besides having a faithful friend) to own or be around pets, particularly dogs.
Yes, once again this has to do with our microbiome, that amazing playground of bacteria, yeast and fungi in the gut that stave off a variety of diseases. Epidemiological studies show that children who grow up in households with dogs, have a lower risk for developing asthma and allergies. Dogs certainly bring in lots of things from the outside world including mud, grass, dirt and feces that’s carried on their fur, snout and paws that then gets transferred to you. Before you say, “Yuk”, know that these animal micro-organisms may actually help our immune systems especially if being introduced during the first 3 months of age. Children growing up with barnyard animals had far fewer rates of asthma than their counterparts. So if we don’t have this additional bacteria (especially if we were brought in this world by C-section and not breast-fed), our immune systems can sometimes lose the ability to distinguish between friend and foe. So if we can’t bring our kids to the farm, then having a pet is the next best thing. We don’t have any studies to determine whether feline microbes can do the same thing.
The exciting new research is in the work being done to look at how animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on our mood and mental health. We know from numerous studies and research by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD, author of the book, “Brain Maker”, that anxiety and depression is strongly related to the gut microbiota. That people with these conditions have higher levels of inflammation in the gut, lower levels of the brains growth hormone BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), higher levels of cortisol (our stress hormone) and an over-reactive stress response. Can more diverse bacterial species form animals combined with our own healthy gut bacteria contribute to the well known anti-depressant benefit that dog ownership gives us? Netzin Steklis, a biologist at the University of Arizona is working on a study of the elderly to learn about how living with dogs changes the gut microbiome in ways that may lift their mood.
More to come…but in the meantime, give your dog a big hug!