Good news for pet owners in wait of a baby, or thinking to have one: according to researchers at the University of Alberta, early-life exposure to household pets has "the capacity to reduce risk for overweight and allergic disease". This means that not only your dog can be a wonderful companion to your children if properly socialised: he can also make them healthier by altering their gut microbial composition.
The study was conducted on a subsample of 746 infants, whose mothers were enrolled during pregnancy between 2009 and 2012. Participating mothers "were asked to report on household pet ownership at recruitment during the second or third trimester and three months postpartum", and faecal samples were then collected from the infants at around 3.3 months in order to examine their gut microbiota. The results were compared to those of infants who'd had no pet exposure before or after birth.
The finding was that pet-owning households resulted in babies with increased abundance in two particular gut bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which are associated with a decreased risk of childhood atopy (allergies) and obesity. So, if you're a dog owner and your baby turns out perfectly healthy, remember to thank your dog - possibly by teaching your child proper pet etiquette as early as possible, in order to make sure they both get the best out of their partnership. After all, growing up with a pet is a great experience - and now we know it's also good for children's health.