April 7 (UPI) -- A study at the University of Alberta in Canada found that being exposed to pets early in life may reduce the risk of developing allergies and obesity.
Researchers found that babies from families with pets, especially dogs, had higher levels of two types of microbes that are known to lower risks of allergies and obesity. About 70 percent of study participants were dog owners.
The team examined samples of fecal matter collected from 746 infants registered in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study whose mothers were enrolled during pregnancy between 2009 and 2012 and found that the bacteria Ruminococcus and Oscillospira was abundant in babies exposed to pet dander. Those two bacteria have been linked to reduced childhood allergies and obesity.
"The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist at the University of Alberta, said in a press release.
Researchers believe the exposure of dirt and bacteria early in life from a pet's fur or paws can create early immunity.
Kozyrskyj said that pet exposure affected the gut microbiome indirectly, from dog to mother to unborn baby, during pregnancy also and that a healthy microbiome exchange in c-section births versus vaginal delivery, antibiotics given during birth and with a lack of breastfeeding.
The study also found the presence of pets in the house reduced the transmission of vaginal group B strep, or GBS, during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns.
"It's not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics," Kozyrskyj said.
The study was published in Microbiome.