Pets are great. They love you unconditionally (well maybe not so much cats, but they are still cool) and are always there to give you a lick or offer up their underside for a belly rub or just curl up in your lap after a long day. But if you don’t already have a pet, when starting to plan a family, the thought of getting a dog or cat after your children are born doesn’t often make sense—there’s just too much going on to justify integrating a pet into the land of late-night bottle feedings and screaming babies with poop-filled diapers.
But a new study from the University of Alberta, however, has found that exposure to pets with hair—70% of the pets in the study were dogs—to babies in the womb and up to three months after birth bumps up the populations of two types of gut bacteria that are linked to reduced childhood allergies and obesity. “There's definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity,” said study author Anita Kozyrskyj, M.D., a pediatric epidemiologist at the university. "The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house."
Researchers also showed that the presence of furry friends increased the immunity-boosting gut bugs in three different types of birth situations acknowledged to lower immunity in babies: C-section vs. vaginal delivery, antibiotics given during birth, and absence of breastfeeding. But wait, there’s more. The study similarly found that having a hairy pet around reduced the risk of transmitting a nasty Strep bug during delivery that causes pneumonia in newborn babies.
The authors speculated that perhaps in the future, if expectant mothers don’t have a dog or cat around to help boost their unborn baby’s immunity, you will be able to buy a “dog pill” similar to the probiotics you can buy now to help with gut health.