Families with cats or dogs running around the house may unwittingly be protecting their infant children from future allergies and obesity.
Research out of Canada shows babies born into families with pets have higher amounts of microbes tied to lower risks of obesity and allergies.
University of Alberta epidemiologist Anita Kozyrskyj and a team of researchers analyzed more than 700 Canadian children. They found babies exposed to pets while in the womb or up to three months recorded an "abundance" of ruminococcus and oscillospira, the latter of which is associated with leanness or lower body mass index, notes the study published in the journal Microbiome.
Kozyrskyj said the two types of bacteria increased "twofold" when a pet was in the house. The team said the theory is that early exposure to bacteria — like that from a dog — creates a type of resistance.
Kozyrskyj said unborn babies and newborns often are indirectly exposed, with the microbes passing from pet, to mother to baby. This means a child could get the benefits of the microbes even if the pet were removed from the home before the baby was born.
The findings also suggest pet exposure could cut down the risk of group B strep, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said could cause blood infection, pneumonia and meningitis in newborns. Doctors treat against group B strep by giving mothers antibiotics during the delivery process.
Kozyrrskyj said she wouldn't be surprised if the pharmaceutical industry created a "dog in a pill" to reap the benefits of the microbes.
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