Can Your Dog Improve Your Immune System?

We know now that dogs are more than just man’s best friend, they can also greatly improve your mental and physical health. But as it turns out, having a dog might provide even more health benefits than meet the eye. Many families with young children might shy away from inviting a dog (or any other pet) into the family in an effort to keep everyone at home from getting sick. After all, dogs do attract dirt and bacteria! In fact, according to recent research, just the opposite is true.

A study in the medical journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy showed that having a dog can greatly improve immune function and reduce allergies in children. They found that children who grew up with a dog had almost a 50% decrease in allergies, compared to those who didn’t grow up with a dog. The reason for this is that having a dog (that plays outside) will increase the diversity of microbes in the household. While this might sound like you’re asking to get sick, it actually increases your immune function. Since 70% of our immune system functions from our gut (as in our gastrointestinal tract), we rely on “good” bacteria in our intestines to ward off infection. Dogs bring small amounts of bacteria into the house on a daily basis, rarely ever enough to cause infection, but enough to build up the “good” bacteria in your immune system. This bacteria fights infection and disease, and helps build immunity over time.

Now if for some reason getting a dog is not an option for your family right now, fear not! There are plenty of ways you can build up your immune system, aside from eating healthy whole foods and exercising daily, that is. Here are a few:

Play in the dirt!

Or in other words, get outside. Walk around without shoes (if you can), swim in a lake, or ocean, or go for a bike ride. Being outside helps expose you to different strains of beneficial bacteria and pollen, thus strengthening your immune system if done regularly.

Go easy on the cleaning products.

We’re by no means asking you to forgo soap and water. But bleach and excessive use of antibacterial products, while they might be a quick fix for eliminating unwanted bacteria, they also eliminate good, healthy bacteria in the process, weakening your ability to fight infection. Try cleaning counters with a gentle, yet effective mixture of baking soda and lemon juice, and wiping clean with warm water.

Consider another furry friend.

In the study mentioned above, cats also significantly reduced the likelihood of allergies in kids. They’re much lower maintenance than dogs, with many similar health benefits, making them a great addition to the family.

Have we convinced you? Will you be adding a dog or cat to the family, playing in the dirt, or ditching the bleach? Let us know in the comments below!