New insights from scientific research on microbiome (the bacteria, fungi and viruses that naturally live in our guts) suggest that our early life environments–who we share our living space with–may play an important role in developing a healthy gut and affect our overall health and well-being*. The same may be true for sharing a living space with dogs. Previous research has shown that dogs’ gut microbiome is actually similar to that of humans. Now new research findings suggest that children living with a dog may have an advantage of developing protection from contracting Crohn’s Disease (a common inflammatory bowel disease) later in life**. The thinking is that exposure to a variety of microbes early in life–such as those from dogs–may lead to a strengthening of immune regulation toward environmental microbes, and thus better gut and overall health and well-being.
Researchers used an environmental questionnaire to collect information from nearly 4,300 first-degree relatives of people with Crohn’s disease enrolled in the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada Genetic, Environmental, and Microbial (CCC-GEM) project. Using responses to the questionnaire and historical data collected at the time of recruitment, scientists analyzed several environmental factors, including family size, the presence of dogs or cats as household pets, the number of bathrooms in the house, living on a farm, drinking unpasteurized milk and drinking well water. The analysis also included age at the time of exposure.
The study found that exposure to dogs, particularly from ages 5 to 15, was linked with healthy gut permeability and balance between the microbes in the gut and the body’s immune response, all of which might help protect against Crohn’s disease. Similar effects were observed with exposure to dogs across all age groups.
*The gut microbiome is believed to play a role in a number of health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
**Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects around half a million people in the U.S. It most often develops in young adults, people who smoke, and those with a close family member who has IBD. Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss. Treatments currently aim to prevent symptom flare-ups through diet modification, medication, and surgery.
Scientific citation: Williams Turpin, Ph.D., “Environmental factors associated with risk of Crohn’s disease (CD) development in a prospective cohort of healthy first-degree relatives of CD patients,” abstract 793, Presentation: Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2022 Conference, San Diego, CA.