The researchers say more research is needed to positively link the gut bacteria changes to health outcomes.
Is having a pet with a baby a good thing? A study published this month from Canadian researchers finds that having a furry pet favorably affects a developing infant’s gut bacteria, and could help the child ward off allergies and obesity.
The study, funded by the Canadian Microbiome Initiative, was part of a larger analysis, the Canadiian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD). Researchers looked at 746 infants taking part in CHILD whose mothers were pregnant between 2009 and 2012. The study was published in the journal Microbiome.
The mothers were asked whether the family had a pet at home during the second and third trimester, what kind, and whether the pet remained in the home for 3 months after the baby was born. Fecal samples were collected from the infants to profile their gut bacteria through rRNA sequencing. Most of the pet owners had dogs, followed by cats.
More than half of the infants were exposed to at least 1 furry pet during either the mother’s pregnancy or after birth. Of the study group, 8% were exposed during pregnancy only, and 46.8% were exposed before and after birth.
Being exposed to furry pets increased the likelihood that infants would have high levels of 2 key bacteria, Oscillospira and Ruminococcus. In other studies, Oscilospira has been associated with reduced risk of obesity, while Ruminococcus has been linked to reduced risk of having allergies. In addition, the authors found that pet ownership during pregnancy was associated with a lower risk of streptococcal colonization, which the authors say may reduce the risk for childhood metabolic disease and atopic disease.
The benefits of pet ownership are many, the authors wrote, and the question of whether having a pet “is becoming a common one for pregnant women.”
More research is needed, they wrote, to link gut bacteria changes to the presence of a pet, and to further link to long-term changes in health outcomes.
Tun HM, Konya T, Takaro TK, et al. Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infants at 3—4 months following various birth scenarios. Microbiome. 2017;5:40. DOI: 10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x.