by Samantha Drake
Could having a dog actually help your immune system?
That’s the notion a team of researchers at the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry is trying to prove. Researchers have launched a study called “Dogs as Probiotics for People” to examine whether dogs can improve human health by acting as a probiotic, particularly in older people. Humans already have a strong emotional bond with their dogs and the study will explore the possible existence of a biological bond that can improve the immune system of both people and their pets.
“We think dogs might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria, or the ‘microbiota,’ are increasingly recognized as playing an essential role in our mental and physical health, especially as we age,” researchers wrote on the project’s web site.
The researchers say their work will build on previous findings that dog owners are much more likely to share the same kind of “good” bacteria with their dogs. Studies have also found that children who grow up with dogs are less likely to develop immunity-related problems, such as asthma and allergies, they add.
Researchers are recruiting volunteers between the ages of 50 and 80 to participate in the study.
The project will additionally look at the dogs’ impact on the overall wellness of the study participants.
“In addition to bacteria, dogs are just great companions, so we are also interested in looking at whether the introduction of a dog into the home of older adults improves their sleep, their muscle and bone strength, their ability to move around, and their overall happiness and quality of life,” note the researchers.
The study will be conducted in partnership with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and the University of Colorado at Boulder. The researchers have created a GoFundMe page to raise funding for the study.
Image: Cristian Iohan Stefanescu / Flickr