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How dogs help prevent kids' infections and asthma

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Indoor outdoor dogs can protect children from asthma and infection

If you have been considering adopting a dog this holiday seasons, there's good scientific evidence about why doing so is good for family health. Researchers have known pets help people live longer. Now they have discovered how having an indoor-outdoor dog can help fend off asthma and infection in children.

How dogs help prevent asthma and infection in children

For their study, researchers used mice to discover how dogs help introduce small doses of allergens that change bacteria in the gut in ways that might even help treat existing asthma.

In the new study led by Susan Lynch, PhD, associate professor with the Division of Gastroenterology at University of California San Francisco, and Nicholas Lukacs, PhD, professor with the Department of Pathology at the U Michigan, mice were exposed to allergens after they were exposed to dust from homes with dogs.

The researchers compared mice exposed to cockroach or protein allergens from homes with dogs to mice exposed to dust from homes without dogs.

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They discovered the mice that had been subjected to dog allergens had decreased airway inflammation that can cause wheezing and asthma compared to mice not exposed. The researchers specifically found an increase in the gut bacteria Lactobacillus johnsonii that they also fed to mice; finding the gut bacteria stops airway inflammation in addition to protecting children from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that is implicated for raising children's risk of asthma.

But it wasn’t just Lactobacillus johnsonii that protects the airways. Mice exposed to allergens from homes with dogs had other gut microbes that the researchers say gave them even better protection from asthma and infection.

Lynch said the finding highlights the importance of gut bacteria for overall health. The hope is that understanding more about gut bacteria could lead to better treatments to prevent asthma and other diseases.

Lynch said in a press release: "The results of our study indicate that this is likely to be one mechanism through which the environment influences immune responses in early life, and it is something we are currently examining using human samples in a large multi-institutional collaborative study funded by the NIAID."

The finding revealed having an indoor-outdoor dog in the home could protect kids’ health by helping to prevent asthma and infection in novel ways that were previously not understood. The researchers say their study in mice would also explain why children exposed to pets early in life have been known to have fewer allergies and illnesses.

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