Can pet germs actually help to keep your baby healthy?

Babies who live in families who own a dog, they have higher levels of two different types of microbes which are bound to help them lower the prevalence of allergies and obesity.

Around 46 percent of infants were exposed to household pets before and after birth, the team reports.

Children could be stopped from developing allergies and asthma by altering their stomach bacteria in their first few months of life, a study has found. The team said the theory is that early exposure to bacteria - like that from a dog - creates a type of resistance.

Findings from the study suggest that exposing infants to the dirt and bacteria on a dog's fur and paws can help boost their immunity, even if parents only had the dog while the mother was pregnant.

While she said the research is still in its early stages, there could eventually be practical applications for allergy-sufferers.

"[.] exposure to pets increased the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been negatively associated with childhood atopy and obesity". In other words, early exposure to pets can boost up the immune system. Furthermore, the study has revealed that children born to families that own pets have lesser chances of becoming obese and, given their strengthened immune system, are not prone to developing allergies compared to those born and brought up in households without pets.

Kozyrskyj said that pet exposure affected the gut microbiome indirectly, from dog to mother to unborn baby, during pregnancy also and that a healthy microbiome exchange in c-section births versus vaginal delivery, antibiotics given during birth and with a lack of breastfeeding.

In addition, the study suggested that pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.

The new research adds to previous investigations into the pluses of pets.

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.

"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 paediatric epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj from the University of Alberta in Canada.

Kozyrrskyj said she wouldn't be surprised if the pharmaceutical industry created a "dog in a pill" to reap the benefits of the microbes.

  • Joanne Flowers