Your dog might be a bigger part of your family than you thought! We know that both genetically related and non-related individuals living in the same household share similar microbiomes. The microbiome is a community made up of trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that normally reside on our body (skin, lungs, mouth, and intestines). The microbiome varies immensely from person to person and is very dynamic within each individual. The microbiomes of our skin and gut appear to play important roles in our health, and a loss of balance within a microbiome could lead to adverse symptoms and diseases. Aside from sharing your home and sometimes your food, according to a study at the University of Colorado, you may also share a skin and gut microbiome with your dog.
A dog’s fur and paws are normally covered in thousands of bacteria, just like our skin is normally covered with microorganisms as part of our normal skin microbiome. It is not surprising that when we touch and cuddle our dogs, their normally residing bacteria can easily transfer to our skin.
According to the 2013 study from the University of Colorado, the human-dog relationship extends much further than companionship by showing significant similarities in skin and fur microbiomes. The studies showed that humans owning dogs had similar skin microbiomes to their own dogs, but not to other dogs. To take things even further, the study discovered that couples that owned a dog shared more of their microbiome with one another than couples that did not own a dog. This means that the dog probably helped transfer the microbiome from one family member to another. Furthermore, adults who owned a dog had a much more diverse community of microorganisms than adults who did not own a dog. This is important because a diverse microbiome is believed to be associated with greater health.
Having pets in the home may have beneficial effects on the gut microbiome of your children. Evidence from a Canadian study demonstrated that early exposure of infants and young children to pets and siblings influences the development and diversity of the gut microbiome. Furthermore, infants born into households with pets had gut microbiomes with increased amounts of two certain bacteria (Ruminococcus and Oscillospira) that are associated with lower rates of childhood allergic diseases and obesity. More studies are needed, but pet ownership appears to increase the diversity of the gut microbiomes of infants. As more research develops, the scientific community hopes to learn if this can decrease the risk for allergic diseases, such as asthma and eczema.
Why Is a Diverse Microbiome Important?
The skin and gut microbiomes are essential components of our metabolism, immune system, and our overall physiology. Therefore, understanding how those (furry or otherwise) living with us at home influence our microbiome is an important avenue of research. It is possible that by diversifying our microbiome through greater exposure to microorganisms, we may become more used to the organisms and molecules in our surroundings. By priming our immune systems to tolerate a range of foreign molecules in the environment, we may be able to reduce the risk of developing allergies and immune conditions. Research has shown that pet exposure reduces the chances of children developing allergies, lung problems, and other autoimmune conditions. The next time you or your child is contemplating a new furry friend, you may think differently about the potential health-promoting effects of owning a pet.