Thursday, July 24, 2014

Paws for Thought: Dogs truly do make us healthier

Annie and GuthrieW

A boy and his dog: How sweet it is and healthy, too! Young Guthrie, who is learning to talk, calls Annie “Good Girl” because everyone keeps praising Annie for being such a “good girl.” Courtesy photo

From page A4 | April 15, 2014 |

Remember all those cautions about dirty dogs? Well scientific evidence offers a more positive view. For starters, research shows that not only do people have 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells, but that our canine companion’s microbes add to that mix, and that’s good.

Scientists are finding that a diverse microbiome plays a critical role in human health because it helps immune systems differentiate between good and bad germs.

According to the scientific study, “Cohabiting family members share microbiota with one another and with their dogs” (eLife, April 16, 2013), researchers found that dogs transfer their bacteria by licking and pawing our skin. Once there, these microbes remain on our skin. It was also noted that, dog-owning adults share more microbiota with their household dogs than with other dogs. The result: humans and canines in the same household share and enrich each other’s microbial communities. To read the entire article, go to

More recently, UC San Francisco and University of Michigan researchers found that infants living in a household with a dog are less likely to develop allergies and asthma. Here’s why: Dust from these households contains “good” bacteria that become part of the child’s gastrointestinal microbiome, thus reducing reactivity to common allergens and viral respiratory infection.

Dogs that roam inside and outside provide an especially rich dust microbiome for the human gastrointestinal tract. This study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

Dr. Susan Lynch, lead researcher and associate professor with the Division of Gastroenterology at UC San Francisco, concludes, “Gut microbiome manipulation represents a promising new therapeutic strategy to protect individuals against both pulmonary infection and allergic airway disease.”

While there’s more to do before researchers are able to improve human health by manipulating our skin and gut micorbiomes, for now, why not ask our dogs to give us kisses and high-fives? Isn’t that more fun?

Need a dog? Adopt one from a local animal shelter or rescue and enjoy a happy, healthy and active life!

Annie’s Happy Tail: Sarah Woltz may not have known about the latest scientific research into the health benefits family dogs provide for very young children when she, her husband Phil, and her 13-month-old son, Guthrie, came to an adoption event at Land Bark Pet Supplies in Sacramento.

What they soon discovered, however, was the incredible bond that can instantaneously occur between people and pets. As Shari Crum, Front Street animal shelter’s outreach coordinator, observed, “That dog loved the family so much! The feelings were mutual. I’ve never seen a dog trying to hug the entire family at once!”

Now that Annie has been with her new family, Sarah writes, “Annie is very well. She fits in perfectly at our house. She and Guthrie are best friends — he thinks her name is ‘Good Girl,’ so that’s what he calls her. We are enrolled in dog training classes and she is doing very well — she is an excellent listener and a quick learner. She likes to play with the cats (who are very patient with her), dig up my lemon balm and go for runs with Phil and Guthrie.”

— Evelyn Dale of Davis is a volunteer and advocate for shelter animal welfare. Contact her at This column is published monthly.


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