How Pets Keep You Healthy

You’ve heard for years about how having a pet around the house can help lower blood pressure, fight depression and provide a host of health benefits, but today scientists are finding value in the bacteria they bring into our lives.

“Pets can help build up the collection of beneficial microbes that colonize the human body, especially at birth, a time when colonization is extra critical,” says Dr. Joseph Petrosino, interim chair of molecular virology and microbiology and the director of the Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research at Baylor College of Medicine.  He’s among the elite scientists building our understanding of the role the microscopic organisms that constitute the human microbiome play in our health.  It’s a deep dive into cutting-edge microbial science and not an area you’d expect to explore a lick in the face by a dog.   

But there Fido is – licking you in the face, tail wagging, and slobbering you with a generous layer of germs and bacteria picked up while sniffing feces in the backyard.  And doctors say that’s good for you!

Following our decades-long fad of cleaning everything with anti-bacterial soap and doing all we can to remove bacteria from our lives, we’re now encouraged to embrace our inner-kid and enjoy the dirt.  Become one with the dog.  “Exposure to farms and pets has been associated, for a long time, with improved health outcomes, including reduced allergies and infections,” said Dr. Petrosino.  The bacteria “impact everything from prevention of infectious diseases, development of the immune system, to maintaining metabolic health, preventing obesity and maintaining good glucose intolerance, and improving brain health.”

Our appreciation of pets increases with our understanding of medical science.  Low blood pressure, increased serotonin and dopamine, unconditional love and a messy, germ-filled, sloppy lick in the face: it’s good to have a dog.

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