Why Dirt and Animals Could Benefit Your Immune System

We know that many people obtain comfort from emotional support animals while other people obtain assistance from trained service animals. It turns out that spending time with animals can also improve other aspects of human health, such as heightened immune systems. A 2004 study found that college students who spent time petting a dog tested positive for higher levels of Immunoglobulin A, an antibody that assists in the creation of mucous membranes. College students that did not pet the dog did not produce test results with higher levels of Immunoglobulin A. In 2015, Scholars at the University of Arizona continued this research by analyzing the idea of dogs as probiotics of sorts. These researchers believe that dogs promote the growth of good bacteria in our bodies and further support the studies stating that children who grow up in a house with dogs will have a lower chance of developing immunity-related issues. Other studies, such as the 2012 Clinical and Experimental Allergy study, noted that children who were exposed to cats and dogs at a young age experienced a lower chance of developing allergies in comparison to children who were not exposed to furry companions. This study also confirmed that surrounding children with pets at an early age would not result in higher risk for allergic disease later in life.

Researchers from Kuopio University Hospital, the Finland National Institute for Health and Welfare, and the University of Ulm discovered even more correlations between healthy children and household pets. Through a study of 397 children they found that children living in homes with dogs had fewer respiratory infections and ear infections than those living in homes without dogs. This Finnish study didn’t stop there; there was a realization that when the house dogs spent time outside the children had an even lower risk of infection. The study also noted that children living in homes with cats also obtained health benefits but not as much as those cohabitating with dogs. Dr. Mary Tobin from Rush University Medical Center believes this is due to the fact that dogs are typically more social than cats. Dogs are more likely to interact closely with human babies and they are more likely than cats to live part of their life outside. Dr. Tobin also believes that we can build a child’s immunity and tolerance by introducing the child to the good bacteria the dog encountered during their outside adventure. So,while you give your pet the joy of exploring the outdoors, you and your family enjoy the health benefits of an indoor-outdoor pet.

These health benefits are presenting themselves outside of the home as well. A study between an Amish community and a Hutterite community who share similar lifestyles found that the Amish children had stronger immune systems. This was due to the fact that Amish children lived on less industrialized farms and often interacted with the farm animals such as horses, donkey, and other cattle. The Hutterite children did not interact with farm animals nearly as much and thus had weaker immune systems.

It would be kind of us to return the favor and support our animal’s immune system. There are a plethora of ways in which we can build and maintain a strong immunity for your pets. For instance, we can encourage our companion animals to play and remain active. Consistent activity helps their bodies balance hormones. These hormones support their immune system. Diet plays an important role as well. Providing our pets with healthy foods can alleviate inflammation and introduce them to good bacteria that promote a more resilient immune system. It is essential to remember that not all animals are the same. Even two dogs of the same breed may require completely different nutritional needs to maintain a well-balanced immunity so it is vital that you schedule regular veterinarian appointments for your companion animals, and do your own research about canine/feline health. It is possible for our pets to experience issues with immunity due to hereditary disorders but as long as you are proactive, your animal friends can live a long and happy life. Together, we and our pets play an important role in this cycle of immunity. We continue to support animals and their immunity and in turn they enhance ours.

Sources: Chicago Tribune, Clinical & Experimental Allergy Journal, Healthy Pets, The New York Times, PetMD, Psychological Reports [journal], TIME