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Can Dogs Enhance Your Immunity?

By Amy Fernandez

What to do, what to do… It’s like waiting for a bomb that might or might no drop. And it’s hard to stay focused and positive when clubs are canceling shows left and right.

That’s why I’m here- likewise an old school Ian Dury fan, so… reasons to be cheerful!

First of all, there’s not much you can do to keep from getting sick at this point. Current advice essentially leans on preventative measures. However, according to most research we, as dog people, are ahead of the game. Statistical analysis admittedly gets distorted enough to prompt skepticism, but once in a while you come across some numbers that contradict prevailing wisdom. Those are especially interesting when they involve dogs.

Here’s my point.  Despite abundant clinical and anecdotal evidence that dogs are good for our health we face a constant barrage of criticism based on conventional ideas of cleanliness.  Yeah, it’s a trade-off but guess what, we are on the winning side.

Over the last 40 years research on immune function has made light years of progress. We know way more about the specifics of T-cell and B-Cell activity–blah blah blah–but one old thing keeps popping up on the radar. Living with animals apparently has a broad, all-encompassing, positive impact on disease resistance and recovery.

You are not in the mood for a long, boring, technical story about immune function so I will just cite one small study from a Rutgers group back in 2006. It drew from numerous previous studies that, although small, consistently pointed to long range beneficial effects of interaction with animals. And also, most of us can relate to what’s going on in New Jersey as opposed to, say, Greenland.

So, this minor pilot study of 136 respondents found that pet ownership decreased both the frequency and duration of illness. Their surveys were collected at various public events geared towards animal lovers/pet owners. And the team acknowledged that the sampling was small, somewhat random, and lacked a meaningful control group. On the other hand, those drawbacks actually enhanced the impact of their consistent findings.

Therefore, starting from the premise that animals do have a positive impact on human health, the team proceeded to break it down for closer scrutiny.

Granted, traditional situations that fostered human/animal contact have disappeared in tandem with those lifestyles. Therefore, this study focused on pet ownership and, naturally, dogs garnered a big chunk of the results in every category. Their little survey confirmed previous similar studies showing that dog owners experienced significantly fewer minor health issues like colds, flu, hay fever, even indigestion. That sort of correlates with other research illustrating their positive impact on patients recovering from cardiac issues.

But the Rutgers group was specifically interested in how dogs influenced the development of innate and acquired immunity, especially how contact with dogs seems to enhance acquired immunity, the more specialized response to individual environmental pathogens.  This is what makes your immune system able to discriminate between innocuous and dangerous pathogens, quickly mobilize to eliminate invading microorganisms, and imprint that response on a cellular level. In other words, adaptiveness and resilience. And since no one has had previous exposure to COVID-19, that’s what’s gonna count.

Perhaps, the biggest data surprise came from their impact on children ages 3-6. Exposure to dogs from birth seemed to have the greatest effect on the development of robust immune function.

So, these days when the world is obsessed with pathogenic harm lurking in our environment, we can take some comfort in the fact that all that dog hair, dog slobber, and junk they track in the house is actually shoring up our immune artillery. And that should cheer you up a bit while you’re mopping and cleaning!

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Posted by on Jan 23 2022. Filed under Current Articles, Featured, Health & Training. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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