Researchers have discovered another reason that a dog in the home can be good for our health. Our homes are filled with billions of “friendly” bacteria, fungi, and viruses. We are probably not aware of it, but we co-exist with them in a way that helps us keep healthy. These “friendly” microorganism stimulate our immune systems, helping us avoid many illnesses.
Studies are now suggesting that when we bring a dog into the house, that the dog introduces a variety of new friendly microorganisms, Many experts are concerned that, in our quest to banish bacteria, we are actually making our living spaces too clean, removing too many of the friendly organisms that we normally live with.
That these bacteria are actually good for us was demonstrated in studies with children who grew up in households with pets or around farm animals. The results showed that these children suffered less from asthma and allergies than children growing up in cleaner environments, without exposure to animals.
The “hygiene theory”
Scientists have called this the “hygiene theory”— that if children spend too much time growing up in clean environments, that later in childhood, their immune systems will overreact when exposed to otherwise harmless substances. If they had been exposed to more germs when they were younger, their immune systems would have been stimulated then, and learned to adapt to being around different sorts of substances. In that way, their immune systems wouldn’t be so sensitive later on.
Immune system needs to be “calibrated”
The children raised in super-clean environments may develop immune systems that haven’t been properly “calibrated”. Being exposed to a wide variety of organisms early on seems to help calibrate their immune system.
Dogs brings in lots of microorganisms
A dog brings lots of new microorganisms into the house. They roll around in dirt and sniff things outside that might be otherwise questionable for us. They bring in these bugs on their fur and on their paws. It is thought that cats (especially outdoor cats) help our environments somewhat, but not as much as dogs. That is because cats usually clean themselves better than dogs.
Of course animals have the potential to bring in germs that are harmful, such as cats and toxoplasmosis and dogs and leptospirosis, but overall the thought is that the risk of this is harm is smaller than the benefit of the animals bringing in helpful organisms.
This research is still going on, but this seems to be another good reason to consider a pet at home. Besides helping lower our blood pressure, decrease stress levels, and even lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, loving animals in the home have been proven to have anti-depressant effects as well. Click on some of the links below to learn more.
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