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Are Dog Germs Good for You?

Posted April 10, 2015 in A Vet's Life

Little girl with dog

Scientists are beginning to realize that having a dog is good for you. Studies by theAmerican Heart Association, Europe PMC and PubMed.gov have shown that having a dog improves blood pressure, lowers cholesterol and helps with depression, anxiety and autism. Researchers have also found that children who grow up in a household with dogs have a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies1. Scientists believe that growing up with a dog exposes a child’s immune system to different antigens (an antigen is any foreign substance that evokes an immune response) and helps desensitize their developing immune system so it doesn’t overreact to harmless environmental antigens, like pollen or grass. Click here to learn more about pets helping with allergies and asthma.

In other words, growing-up around a dog “trains” your immune system so it doesn’t “overreact” to normal environmental antigens. This “overreaction” to normal antigens is the basis for allergies. However, there is evidence that the allergy benefits of having a dog are mediated by exposure to a dog’s microbiome.

What’s a microbiome?
The microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that coexist in people, animals and plants. Most people are familiar with the use of probiotics to help promote a healthy gut microbiome. “Probiotics” are live cultures of “good” microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Interestingly, living with a dog seems to result in a sharing of microbiomes. A study by elifesciences.org reported that families with dogs share as much of their microbiome with their dogs as they do with each other2.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.

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The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author's and do not necessarily represent the beliefs, policies or positions of all veterinarians, Pet Health Network, IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates and partner companies.