Can Your Dog Supercharge Your Microbiome?

Jill Clark

Editor's Note: If you follow Mother Dirt you know that we love dogs. We even have a dog-friendly office where they join us a couple of days a week. Those days are full of belly rubs, snuggles, and lots of dog kisses, which got us to talking about how all of that means we each share a microbiome with our 4-legged friends. We thought we’d explore this side of the microbiome even more, so we asked our friend Jill to dig deeper into just what happens when you get cozy with your favorite furball.

We’re still talking about dirty environments and how a diverse microbiome strengthens our immune systems. We think it’s just so interesting!

Next up: Puppy power.

What if we told you that your puppy has a superpower? Yes! Our four-legged friends help increase the diversity of bacteria found within our environments.

It makes sense! Considering they spend so much time sniffing and running around outside—it’s no wonder they pick up so many of the good bugs we lack on their tongue, paws, and fur. We already know that diversity is a good thing and that a lot of the diversity comes from nature.

Clearly our pups are just thinking of us when they roll around in the mud, and then instantly want to cuddle or lick our faces.

Your Dog Increases the Diversity of Your Microbiome

Healthcare professionals once believed that all microbes were bad. We were told to avoid dirt and germs assuming every bacterium was created equal. We obviously now know that isn’t the case. In terms of our puppy pals, when measuring the bacteria present in children’s guts, those with pets had a higher diversity than those without.

Why is microbe diversity a good thing? We know that healthy immune systems grow from diverse gut microbiomes. We also know that the microbiomes of our environment influence our gut microbiomes. The higher the diversity in your environment, the better a child’s chance of exposure to all those good guy bugs so many of us are missing.

“Old Friends” and Four-Legged Family Members

Yes—pets help with the transfer of good microbes too. Your pup makes transferring microbes throughout the household a lot easier, likely because we’re always petting them.

Research shows that, over time, dogs and their owners share the same microbial makeup. Families who live with dogs have more common bacteria than those who don’t. It sounds a little iffy, but it’s great! More exposure is better for everyone—especially for the little ones in your house.

Have you heard of the “Old Friends” hypothesis? It’s the idea that common bacteria evolved with humans over time, teaching tolerance to our immune system. Essentially, this exposure helps train our immune systems to understand what bacteria are good and bad to have inside our body. A diverse gut microbiome means your insides are full of “Old Friends” here to help.

That means that the next time your pup tracks mud into the house on their paws, you should thank them for helping your children grow up to be healthy. Those flawed ideals of cleanliness tricked us again! (Read more about finding the right balance of clean in your home.)

The Perks of Living With Pups

Enough with the facts. What do these perks of living with pets actually look like?

We already know that dogs decrease stress levels, increase activity, and make us generally happier. It’s becoming clearer that our furry friends have even more perks than we originally thought. As if we could love our fur babies any more!

Some studies compare the effect household dogs even have as similar to probiotics on the body because they encourage the growth of good bacteria as well as the diversification. Now research is showing that kids with pups might have a variety of other health benefits, too. It’s still in the early stages, but compelling nonetheless.

All these perks come from just living with pets. It sounds like a pretty good deal for us! 

Our last question on the subject: Who else is convinced to immediately adopt a dog?

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