Furry pets may impact our physical health

Furry pets may impact our physical health

Pawsies can feel the emotional and psychological benefits of living with a pet. They may also be physical.

February 5, 2020

I have a confession: My Cockapoo Walter sleeps on our bed. He’s our pet-child. He gets lots of love and attention and is such an important part of our family. He makes sure I get my 10,000 steps a day. He helps us teach our children responsibility. He showers us with unconditional love every time we walk through the door. He comforts us when we’re sick, and he’s a shoulder to cry on when we’re sad. Great guy, that Walter.

More and more people see the benefit that pet parenthood has on their wellbeing. Indeed, research into this human-animal bond has found that when pets are part of the family there are many emotional benefits for both children and adults. What’s more, we’re starting to recognise the potential advantages for our physical health.

Furry pets and infants: the study

A recent Canadian study looked at the impact of pet ownership during and after pregnancy on the “good” and “not-so-good” bacterial communities in the digestive tracts of infants. Researchers studied 746 expectant mothers and their infants in Western Canada between 2009 and 2012. They collected a variety of information on the mothers-to-be, with a focus on exposure to furry pets. About half of the mothers did not own pets. Those who did, had their pets both pre- and post-birth. The majority of “furry pets” were either dogs or cats.

In with the good, out with the bad

After controlling for the factors that can affect the microbiome of infants (e.g. ethnicity, socioeconomic status, previous antibiotic treatment, siblings), researchers found that in households that had at least one furry pet pre- and/or post-partum, there was an abundance of two species of “good” bacteria in the guts of 3-4-month-old infants sampled compared to those infants whose households had no pets.

Conversely, exposure to furry pets also reduced the presence of undesirable bacteria in the gut microbiome. This relationship was only seen in infants born naturally and in those whose mothers were given antibiotics at birth.

As with all preliminary research, the results should be interpreted with caution. Though researchers noted positive changes in the microbiome that could be associated with lower obesity and allergic disease later in life, we don’t know whether these changes will have such results in study infants. But the project is on-going, so we should have an answer to this question soon.

Adding up the benefits

Living with furry pets can bring a lot of positive benefits to the family. This study shows that our pets can potentially impact more than just our emotional and psychological health. It could serve as a foundation to further understanding and evaluating the positive ways that pets—like my Walter—can change our lives for the better.

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