Having A Pet May Help Boost Your Baby's Gut Health

baby and dog

If you have a furry friend as part of your family, you may be happy to hear that there is a 2017 study that shows that pets can actually help make your baby more healthy.

Having a pet in the home has long been associated with healthier weights in babies, along with a reduction in allergies. But evidence shows that having a pet in the home actually changes the physical microbial composition of babies' stomachs and intestines, called their gut microbiome, which could help the babies stay healthier.

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

Flora in the gut refers to the many strains and types of bacteria that live in our stomach and intestines, especially our large intestine. Everyone's gut flora is different and many factors influence what our bacterial flora looks like, from genetics to lifestyle to diet. Gut flora is called our gut microbiome or microbial makeup.

The microbial makeup of the gut influences our health as humans in many ways, from playing a role in our weight to our immune system and even our mental state. Bacteria in the gut even influences our heart health, and harmful bacteria in the gut could lead to heart disease.

Looking at the Link Between Pets and Gut Health

Because doctors know how important the gut flora is, especially as it develops early in life, they have paid special attention to what influences the gut microbiome in babies. A 2017 study in Microbiome examined how pets in the home affected infants' gut flora and found a surprising association. The study looked at 746 babies from Canada and asked mothers to report their pet ownership during their pregnancies and again at 3 months postpartum. The researchers then looked at the infant gut microbiota through a stool sample.

The study found that half of all the infants had some kind of exposure to a furry pet, whether just during pregnancy or more commonly, during pregnancy and after birth as well. And overwhelmingly, there were more of two important types of bacteria in the gut flora of infants with pets in the home. The bacteria Oscillospira and/or Ruminococcus were found in doubled amounts in infants who had exposure to furry pets. And even more encouraging, pet exposure was also linked with a reduction in the bad bacteria Streptococcaceae for babies who were born vaginally to mothers who also had to have antibiotics during birth.

Overall, the researchers noted that having furry pets in the home has been shown to boost babies' immune systems and reduce allergies, but this is the first closer look at exactly why that happens. The study also points to the fact that having a pet could help reduce childhood metabolic and atopic disease.

What the Study Means

The researchers noted that the findings could be especially helpful for babies who are born by C-section. This is due to the fact that when babies are born by C-section, they don't receive the same bacteria that babies who are born through the vagina receive. When babies are born vaginally, they pass through the mother's birth canal and are introduced to the many bacteria flora through labor. That bacteria then travels to their own digestive systems and helps start the basis of a healthy gut microbiome, which is the "blueprint" of bacteria for the baby.

In a C-section, however, the baby does not always pass through the birth canal or spend enough time in the vagina to receive that bacteria. So it's especially important to help establish that healthy microbiome in a baby's digestive system if the baby is born through a C-section.

The Takeaway

Overall, science seems to point to the fact that having a pet in the family is a boost to everyone's health and may be especially helpful in establishing good gut flora for your baby. So if you're on the fence about getting a pet or having a pet in the home if you're expecting a baby, science says you should be a happy fur parent and a baby parent. Plus, just think about how cute your baby and pet will look together. That's practically a scientific rule too, right?

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Article Sources
  • Tun, H. (2017, March 14). Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infants at 3–4 months following various birth scenarios. Microbiome, 5:40. Received from https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x