Pets: The All-Natural Immune System Booster

We’ve all heard that pets help to keep you healthy, but do you ever wonder how that works?

Our pets encourage us to be more active.  They have dog park pals, which helps us form friendships with other dog park parents.  They give us the warm fuzzies and keep us happy.  They add structure to our lives and relieve the stress that comes along with all those grown up responsibilities.  All of those things enrich our lives and add value to our day, but we are talking about actual physiology.  What is it about our pets that makes our bodies stronger and healthier?

In a recent study, James E. Gern, MD, a researcher and pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison took blood samples from a number of infants immediately after their birth and again one year after birth.  He analyzed the samples for any sort of immune changes, including allergies and reactions to bacteria in the environment.  Here’s what he found:

  • If the family shared their home with a dog, the infant was significantly less likely to be allergic to pets:  33% (no dog) vs. 19% (with a dog).
  • Babies who shared their home with a pet were less likely to have eczema (also known as allergic dermatitis), which is a common skin condition that involves chronic itchy scaling rashes.
  • Finally, babies who lived with a pet in the home had higher blood levels of certain immune system chemicals, which indicate an overall stronger immune system activation.

The normal flora found on the skin of our pets, as well as the dander and allergens that they naturally produce are beneficial to us on a chemical level.

Studies have also shown that anxiety and depression will lower your body’s own defenses and make you more susceptible to illness.  For some people, pet ownership is exactly what the doctor ordered.

The next time you feel the sniffles coming on, we say skip the Vitamin C and Echinacea and go straight for cuddle time with your best friend.

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