New Study Setting Out to Find Health Benefits of Owning Dogs

The University of Arizona is launching a new study to determine whether bacteria found on dogs encourages the growth of beneficial microorganisms in humans, to determine whether or not dogs really help pet owners develop immunities to allergies.

“We’ve co-evolved with dogs over the millennia, but nobody really understands what it is about this dog-human relationship that makes us feel good about being around dogs,” Kim Kelly, an anthropology doctoral student participating in the university’s study, said. “Is it just that they’re fuzzy and we like to pet them, or is there something else going on under the skin?”

ABC News reports that researchers will match people between the ages of 50 and 60 with dogs, take blood and skin samples from both for analysis over a three-month period, and track any health changes that may occur to see if the humans’ immune responses were affected over the 12 week period by the presence of dogs.

“We at Barksdale have always had a suspicion that there was validity to this thought process,” says Al Gordy, Owner of Barksdale Labradoodles. “We are very pleased to see this study being done. Hopefully this will open up the world for more research like this.”

Theoretically, the dogs’ microbiome will beneficially influence humans’ microbiomes, which have positive, ancillary effects on humans’ immune system responses.

“We’re not really individuals, we’re sort of like communities [with bacteria],” said Lead Researcher Dr. Charles Raison. “These bacteria can powerfully impact brains and [immune health.]”

Though these microbes are only a small part of the human microbiome, they can have a heavy impact on our health.

“Microbes in our gut can have profound effects on our health, both our mental health as well as our physical well being,” Kelly told NPR. “So our question then became ‘Is there something in the transfer of these microbes between dogs and humans that is actually making us healthier?'”

Researchers are currently trying to raise funds and recruit volunteers for the study. If interested in participating, Kelly can be reached at kkelly@psychiatry.arizona.edu.

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