Could a Pet Protect Your Baby from Obesity and Allergies?

April 28, 2017

Could a Pet Protect Your Baby from Obesity and Allergies?

As incredible as it sounds, having your baby exposed to a cat or a dog with the run of the house, may provide infants with a shield against future allergies, and a lower likelihood of obesity later in life. A Canadian research team discovered that babies from families who routinely kept a dog or cat in the house built up higher levels of microbes which are associated with reduced risk of allergies and obesity. In addition to the benefits of companionship provided by such pets, it appears that they can also actually impart several health benefits to children in the home.

The Research Project

Epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj led a team of researchers in surveying and analyzing data obtained from 746 Canadian children, who were part of the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD), with information being gathered during the period from 2009 to 2012 from expectant Canadian mothers.

The results, which were published in The Microbiome, showed that those babies who had at least three months of exposure to pets while still in the womb generated a significant quantity of oscillospira and ruminococcus. Oscillospira is commonly associated with leanness and a body mass index which is low and in the healthy range.

Those babies in the survey who came from households with at least one pet were found to have double the quantity of microbes in their systems, compared to babies from households with no pets. In 70% of the households participating in the survey, the pets present were dogs, although similar results were obtained from households having cats as the primary family pet. The obvious conclusion is that early exposure to the types of bacteria commonly carried by dogs or cats triggers a kind of resistance to allergies and obesity.

Indirect Exposure

One of the key findings of the survey was that the benefits obtained by babies did not require their direct exposure to household pets, and instead could be simply absorbed into the bloodstream. The actual method of transmission involved beneficial microbes being passed by the pet to the mother, and then from the mother to the baby. That means it would still be possible for a baby to benefit from those microbes whether or not the pet was present at the time of birth.

Additional Findings

Other discoveries made during the survey suggest that exposure to pets at an early age might reduce the risk of Group B Strep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Group B Strep is relatively harmless in adults but can cause blood infections, meningitis, and pneumonia in newborn babies. Any of these afflictions would have serious repercussions for an infant, so Group B Strep is normally treated by giving mothers antibiotics during their third trimester of pregnancy.

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