Something shook us to the gut recently. We learned that the reason why children who grew up with pets are less likely to develop asthma and various allergies was because of bacteria. Not the bad kind, but the sort of microorganisms that can boost human immune systems and make us healthier. As it turns out, such friendly germs can be sourced from pets. This is one more benefit to having a dog or a cat!
Are Pets the “New Yogurt?”
The latest studies on animal and human health have revealed that microbes from dogs can help keep us healthy. That’s because exposure to diverse microorganisms boosts human microbes, which can protect against various diseases, even obesity.
This indicates that a “too clean” home can make children and adults more sensitive to many things. According to the “hygiene hypothesis,” over-cleaning can make us more likely to get allergies and asthma. Eliminating the “bad bacteria” may also wipe out the good. We will talk more about this later.
We know all too well how our pets are capable of bringing in various contaminants in the home.
Microbes that have latched to their muzzles, fur, and paws from their outdoor excursions can be deposited into our residences. Researchers have found that dogs tend to raise the home’s bacterial diversity by 56 levels. Cats improve the domestic bacterial cocktail by only about 24 categories. However, researchers have yet to prove that cats can help prevent immune issues. Much of their studies focused on canine pets.
In a study of children living near barnyard animals and those who grew apart from them, there were more asthma patients amongst the latter. Further, the first group had less immune system-related illnesses compared to those who were not exposed to animals.
This just proves what scientists have known for many years—a lack of exposure to a variety of bacteria can lead to more immune-related sickness.
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How Important Is Having A Healthy and Diverse Microbiota?
“Both inside and out, our bodies harbour a huge array of microorganisms,” explained science journalist Nicola Davis. “While bacteria are the biggest players, we also host single-celled organisms known as archaea, as well as fungi, viruses, and other microbes—including viruses that attack bacteria. Together, these are dubbed the human microbiota,” she added.
Whilst there are dangerous microbes, most of them are good ones. There are those that break down certain substances that enter the body. Others “programme” the immune system.
What can change the composition of our microbiota are stress, the environment we live in, and the kind of food we eat long-term. The medicines we take, particularly antibiotics, can also change the gut microbe mix. Because of this, each person has a different set of the microbiota. Some may have a better set, whilst others do not. And if your microbes are not well, then neither are you.
“If you want to be healthy, you need to take care of your microbiome,” advised microbiologist Dr. Liping Zhao of Rutgers University. “If you take good care of your microbiome, it will support you. If you do not, you can turn a partner for health into a pathogen for disease,” he emphasised.
The significant role microbiomes play in human health has made it the focus of many studies in the last few years. Microbiomes, as it turned out, can influence weight, brain function, sleep, mental well-being, nerve health, and, of course, digestion.
Such research has sparked a boom in probiotic health products and further investigation. Scientists have even turned their attention to pets as a form of probiotics for humans. Based on their research, as mentioned previously, there is much promise in this area. Indeed, if the key to healthy microbiota is a diverse mix, then one should be exposed to more microbes.
Should You Get A Pet?
There is more to boosting microbiota composition than exposing ourselves to a richer mix of microbes, though. Microbiologists have advised that the substances that work for others may not work for us. As such, it is important to take probiotics in moderation and with the guidance of a medical professional.
But what about boosting our microbiota with a new pet dog or cat at home?
Make no mistake: pets may bring us a lot of happiness and health benefits, but they also come with some risks. However, based on statistics and studies, the positives outweigh the risks.
Should everyone get a pet, then? Or rather, should you get a pet of your own?
Here’s a short questionnaire that can help you answer that question:
- Do you love _____? (Insert the name of a specific type of animal.)
- Do you have the time and energy to care for a pet?
- Can you set aside a realistic annual budget for a pet’s needs (food, gear, vet bills, pet insurance)?
- Does your work or lifestyle allow you to settle in one place?
- Is your current health status compatible with having a pet at home?
- Do you have the patience to train a pet or take “accidents” at home in stride?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then you SHOULD get a pet!
You can start by looking at our listings for pets for adoption or sale. Then, head over to our blog to find valuable tips on caring for your friend!