Mace Dekker: Dirty beasts |

Mace Dekker: Dirty beasts

Mace Dekker, D.V.M.

We all love our pets, but some people worry about pets leading to problems with their kids, especially if they are young. Pets aren't exactly clean, right?

Well, exposure to household pets from birth could reduce a child's risk for allergies and obesity.

A study conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta looked at infant gut microbiota to see whether pre- or postnatal pet exposure would have a significant effect.

Researchers used a large sample of 746 infants whose mothers were enrolled during pregnancy. The mothers were given questionnaires and the infants were split into four categories based on exposure: no pet exposure in the pre- or postnatal periods; only prenatal pet exposure; both pre- and postnatal pet exposure; and only postnatal pet exposure. Because such a small number of infants fell into the category of only postnatal pet exposure—seven out of the total—that category was excluded from the final analysis.


More than half the infants had some exposure to pets: 8 percent were exposed in pregnancy alone and 46.8 percent had exposure during both time periods.

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To control for other factors, comparisons were conducted for specific groups with or without siblings, non-exclusively breastfed infants, as well as non-exclusively breastfed infants without siblings.

Pre- and postnatal pet exposure enriched the abundance of oscillospira and/or ruminococcus. Oscillospira has been detected in rRNA gene surveys of the human microbiome and been associated "with leanness or lower body mass index in both infants and adults." As for the role of ruminococcin, they are fiber degraders and typically predominant in formula-fed infants. In a previous study, researchers "observed a strong link between low levels of ruminococcaceae and food sensitization at age 1. This suggests that infants with high levels of oscillospira and ruminococcus would be at a lower risk for allergies and obesity.

Some of the benefits of pet exposure applied to infants who had prenatal exposure but not postnatal exposure, indicating that the microbiome exchange could take place before birth.

In short — it appears pets do help us live leaner, less allergy-prone lives!

Grass Valley Veterinary Hospital's Mace Dekker, D.V.M. will consider your questions each month in Vet Tips. Have a question? Submit it to

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