For those of us who own dogs, we know the dirt and mess that comes along with it. Some of our dogs’ favorite pastimes include rolling around in the mud, swimming in a pond, and eating questionable food off the ground. According to an article recently published in the New York Times by Richard Schiffman, it may be our dog’s dirty habits that are helping us stay healthy.
Scientists have been increasing their focus and study on the “indoor microbiome.” This term refers to the bacteria, germs, fungi, and viruses that live among us in our homes. While this may sound like a problem, our exposure to these substances is beneficial in helping us fend off a variety of illnesses. Our immune systems rely on many of these substances to develop and function properly. If you are like me, you may have a slight obsession with keeping things clean and neat in your home. What most of us don’t know is how advantageous it is to have some of these substances present in our living space.
Humans spend approximately 90% of their lives indoors (especially young children), in what is considered “bacteria poor environments.” This can cause our body to over-react to non-harmful substances and make us sick. Some common examples of conditions developed from these circumstances are allergies and asthma. Having an allergy is simply your body attacking something it shouldn’t, due to lack of exposure. This exposure is especially important for children, specifically those in their first 3 months of life.
So what do dogs have to do with this? Well, if you are in need of bacteria and germs for your home, look no further than “man’s best friend”. Having a dog at home can raise the levels of nearly 56 different types of bacteria that we encounter daily. Further proof of this idea can be found in a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. The research found that in general, Amish people suffer less from immune related illnesses due to their exposure to the bacteria and germs carried by farm animals. It also notes that this way of living is very similar to how our human ancestors lived for thousands of years before us. Since all of us cannot live on a farm, the next best thing may be owning a dog.
While there is still animal borne microbes that can be harmful to humans, the positives greatly out-weigh the negatives. There is very good reason to believe that having an animal in the house, especially with young children, is good exposure to necessary germs and bacteria. Humans and dogs have had a relationship that dates back more than 40,000 years. Perhaps we are just now discovering some of the other benefits of our relationship besides the unwavering loyalty and companionship they offer.
For more information or to read Richard Schiffman’s Article “Are Pets the new Probiotic?” click here.