The presence of pets can boost the immunity of children even while they are still in the womb and can help them fight asthma, allergies, and obesity, a new study finds.
There was already evidence that exposing children to more bacteria can help boost their immunity.
"Let them eat dirt, we say," joked Dr. Elizabeth Meade, head of pediatrics for Swedish Hospitals.
But the study published in Microbiome found there's a critical window when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, helping children fight asthma, allergies and obesity long term. Researchers say the critical window is from the womb to the first three months of life.
"So even if the pet was in the house when mom was pregnant but was out of the house by the time baby was born, they still had the same benefits," Meade said. "That is something we haven't seen much evidence of before."
The study also found that babies from households with pets had twice the amount of good bacteria, specifically Ruminococcus and Oscillospira.
"This study is really specific because it actually tells us that these kids have more, different kinds of bacteria in their microbiome," Meade said. "That's really important for a lot of different things that we're just now starting to find out about."
Meade said decreasing the use of antibiotics for easily treatable illnesses like viral infections will also promote better gut health.