Are we becoming too “clean” for our own good? By eliminating toxins from our household by scrubbing, disinfecting, vacuuming, we actually end up filtering out the fortifying mix of microscopic creatures that our immune system needs to develop properly. Exposing yourself to a wide array of outdoor germs is helpful to your microbiome to help fight off illnesses — so how can we get a healthy dose of outdoor germs while keeping our homes clean?
Cue in our pets!
Not only are they adorable, but our loyal companions add to the biodiversity of our home’s microbiome by tracking in countless germs on their paws, snouts, and fur. According to Royal Society Publishing, dog ownership raised the levels of 56 different classes of bacterial species in the indoor environment, while cats boosted only 24 categories. You might be wondering why increasing the bacteria in your home is a good thing, but exposure to animal bacteria can trigger the bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize neurotransmitters. This can impact mood, Autoimmune disorders, and many other mental functions.
Autoimmune disorders, such as allergies and asthma, are both examples of the immune system is misfiring. For example, allergies occur when your body doesn’t recognize food or other foreign substances that enter your body and it attacks them. Both of these conditions can have serious consequences, such as asthma attacks or anaphylactic shock.
A recent epidemiological study found that children who grow up with pets in their households have a lower risk of developing autoimmune illnesses than those without pets. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2017, 51.6% of children in the United States under the age of 18 have had one or more asthma attacks in their lifetime. The increasing rate of asthma attacks in children is scary, but recent studies have shown that exposure to animal micro-organisms during the first three months of life can help stimulate a child’s immune system so that it doesn’t become overly sensitive later in life.
The New England Journal of Medicine found that Amish children who grew up close to barnyard animals in Indiana had far lower rates of asthma compared to those who were raised apart from animals on larger, more mechanized farms in North Dakota.
A co-author of the study, Jack Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, states the Amish people suffered from fewer immune-related illnesses because they grew up interacting with livestock and the bacteria they host. While having access to livestock isn’t a reality for most, your pets are the next best thing.
Pets are a popular way to stay happy and healthy. According to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 85 million families in the United States own a pet. If you own a dog or cat, give them an extra treat for helping you stay healthy. And the next time you’re considering if a new pet is a good idea, remember that the benefits stretch beyond just having a cuddly companion.
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Kolata, Gina. “Barnyard Dust Offers a Clue to Stopping Asthma in Children.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Aug. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/health/dust-asthma-children.html?module=inline.
“Most Recent National Asthma Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 May 2018, www.cdc.gov/asthma/most_recent_national_asthma_data.htm.
Schiffman, Richard. “Are Pets the New Probiotic?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 6 June 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/06/06/well/family/are-pets-the-new-probiotic.html.
“Wild Life of Our Homes.” Public Science Lab, 18 Nov. 2016, robdunnlab.com/projects/wild-life-of-our-homes/.