Having a dog may help prevent your baby from developing asthma, according to research from a team at the University of California. Dust from households with dogs is different from dust from homes without pets and, says The Scientist, “now it appears this unique bacterial assemblage may confer an advantage to the youngest members of the household,” if they are at risk for developing asthma:
Mice fed dog-home dust before being exposed to the common infant infection respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is associated with a high risk of developing asthma, appear to be immune to the virus compared to mice fed on normal house dust.
The immune mice also had “a distinct gastrointestinal bacterial composition,” Kei Fujimura, part of the team from the University of California that announced its findings at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting last month (June 19), told Wired Science.
Whatever microbes the dogs have actually “may take residence in the gastrointestinal tract of the mice and play a role in modulating the immune response to RSV.”
The researchers are now investigating precisely what microbial species, or combination of them, might be involved with the hopes of developing a vaccine for respiratory diseases.
These findings stood out to me as I had severe asthma as a child; due to relatives’ allergies, we had no pets except for some goldfish.
The research also brings to mind the “hygiene hypothesis,” which argues that children who are exposed in early life to more microbes (from other children, from animals) develop immune systems that are better able to tolerate the irritants causing asthma and related conditions including food allergies.
Just as being exposed to bacteria associated with living in rural areas may protect children who are especially at risk to hypersensitivity to certain allergens, so, it seems, can some microbes carried by dogs offer special protection for babies prone to asthma and related conditions.
As the Life Lines blog comments, Fujimura and his colleagues’ research is further reason that dogs can indeed be “baby’s best friend.”
Photo by Lunchbox Photography