Tag Archives: asthma

Health benefits of owning a dog (video version)

Throughout this blog, you’ll find articles about research involving dogs.  Some of these articles can be quite lengthy, so I was pleased when Time published this short video – all of the key points about the health benefits of owning a dog in one place.

If you’re really busy, or simply not interested in reading the full research, this video is for you!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Pet exposure may reduce allergies and obesity

If you need a reason to become a dog lover, how about their ability to help protect kids from allergies and obesity?

A new University of Alberta study showed that babies from families with pets—70 per cent of which were dogs—showed higher levels of two types of microbes associated with lower risks of allergic disease and obesity.

Puppy licking a baby's face

A dog licking a baby’s face. Credit: © Christin Lola / Fotolia

But don’t rush out to adopt a furry friend just yet.

“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 Anita Kozyrskyj, a U of A pediatric epidemiologist and one of the world’s leading researchers on gut microbes—microorganisms or bacteria that live in the digestive tracts of humans and animals.

The latest findings from Kozyrskyj and her team’s work on fecal samples collected from infants registered in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study build on two decades of research that show children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma.

The theory is that exposure to dirt and bacteria early in life—for example, in a dog’s fur and on its paws—can create early immunity, though researchers aren’t sure whether the effect occurs from bacteria on the furry friends or from human transfer by touching the pets, said Kozyrskyj.

Her team of 12, including study co-author and U of A post-doctoral fellow Hein Min Tun, take the science one step closer to understanding the connection by identifying that exposure to pets in the womb or up to three months after birth increases the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been linked with reduced childhood allergies and obesity, respectively.

The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house,” said Kozyrskyj, adding that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby’s life. In other words, even if the dog had been given away for adoption just before the woman gave birth, the healthy microbiome exchange could still take place.

The study also showed that the immunity-boosting exchange occurred even in three birth scenarios known for reducing immunity, as shown in Kozyrskyj’s previous work: C-section versus vaginal delivery, antibiotics during birth and lack of breastfeeding.

What’s more, Kozyrskyj’s study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.

It’s far too early to predict how this finding will play out in the future, but Kozyrskyj doesn’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity.

“It’s not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics,” she said.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Allergy, Genes and Environment Network (AllerGen NCE), was published in the journal Microbiome, along with an editorial in Nature.

Source:  University of Alberta media release

Early contact with dogs linked to lower risk of asthma

A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries encompassing more than one million Swedish children to study the association between early life contact with dogs and subsequent development of asthma.

The new study found that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent lower risk of asthma than children without dogs.

Childhood asthma and dog ownership

Tove Fall is Assistant Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory.
Photograph: Mikael Wallerstedt

A total of more than one million children were included in the researchers’ study linking together nine different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers not previously used for medical research. The results are being published for the first time in JAMA Pediatrics. The goal was to determine whether children exposed to animals early in life are at different risk of asthma.

‘Earlier studies have shown that growing up on a farm reduces a child’s risk of asthma by about half. We wanted to see if this relationship also was true also for children growing up with dogs in their homes. Our results confirmed the farming effect, and we also saw that children who grew up with dogs had about 15 percent less asthma than children without dogs. Because we had access to such a large and detailed data set, we could account for confounding factors such as asthma in parents, area of residence and socioeconomic status’ says Tove Fall, Assistant Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University. She coordinated the study together with researchers from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.

In Sweden, every person carries a unique personal identity number. Every visit to a specialist physician and every prescription made are recorded in national databases, accessible to researchers after de-identification of data. Even dog ownership registration is mandatory in Sweden since 2001. These scientists studied whether having a parent registered as a dog-owner or animal farmer was associated with later diagnosis or medication for childhood asthma.

’These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how animals could protect children from developing asthma. We know that children with established allergy to cats or dogs should avoid them, but our results also indicate that children who grow up with dogs have reduced risks of asthma later in life. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalizable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding pet ownership and farming‘ says Catarina Almqvist Malmros, senior author of the study, Paediatrician at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital and Professor in Clinical epidemiology at Dept of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm.

Source:  Uppsala University media release

In 2012, I wrote about another study linking childhood asthma and dog ownership in Of dogs, house dust and asthma…