Lifestyle & Belief

Pets play a central role in household bacterial life, study says


A new study shows that dogs are far more involved in the bacterial life of the household than once thought.


Rosie Hallam

We share more with our pets than just those awkward one-sided conversations when nobody is watching.

We also share many microbes.

Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder found, among other things, that parents share much more bacteria with their dogs than with their kids.

"One of the biggest surprises was that we could detect such a strong connection between their owners and pets," said study co-author Rob Knight, in a statement.

"In fact, the microbial connection seems to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and their children."

The study looked at 17 households, including 159 people of varying ages and 36 dogs.

Researchers swabbed their tongues, foreheads, palms and paws.

They even swabbed their feces in what must have been an awkward moment.

Researchers were surprised at how involved the dogs were in the bacterial life of the household - sharing, swapping and hosting a variety of good and bad microbes.

Other findings of the study include the fact that couples with a dog share more bacteria with each other than those without a dog.

Also, parents have more tongue and gut bacteria in common with their own kids than others, but only before the child reaches 3-years-old.

The study adds to growing research that exposure to new and interesting bacteria might be a good thing for us.

"Recent studies link early exposure to pets to decreased prevalence of allergies, respiratory conditions and other immune disorders in later stages of development, and skin microbes in particular are now receiving more focus as important players in immune regulation," the researchers wrote

The findings were presented in the journal eLIFE.