Woof—It’s Good for Kiddy Gut Biome

Woof—It’s Good for Kiddy Gut Biome

George Graham Vest was a U.S. Senator in the late 1800s, but it’s the way he represented one of his constituents’ dog, Old Drum, that has made him part of American history. To commemorate the passing of the loyal pooch, he declared: “The one absolutely unselfish friend man can have in this selfish world is…his dog.” A statue of Old Drum still stands outside the Warrensburg, Missouri, courthouse.

Turns out, unconditional love is not the only benefit of having a canine companion. A new study, published in Microbiome, found that infants who are exposed to furry pets have a healthier mix of gut bacteria. Researchers analyzed fecal samples from more than 700 babies at around three months of age; those who had spent more time around four-legged friends had twice the levels of Ruminococcus and Oscillopira bacteria.

Past studies have linked higher levels of Ruminococcus in infancy to a lower risk of childhood allergies and greater amounts of Oscillopira to a lower risk of obesity later in life. This new study adds to existing research that shows kids in regular contact with dogs in their first year of life have a 13 percent lower risk of asthma.

So if you’re thinking about starting or expanding your family, you might want to add a dog to the mix. Prenatal exposure also confers benefits to newborns and gives you time to get the animal settled into household routines. Bonus: Besides giving unconditional love, a dog encourages more exercise and reduces stress.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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