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The extra health perks of dog ownership

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In light of the recent unsettling headlines regarding human infections of Brucella canis, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the many health benefits dog ownership brings, from childhood through to our golden years.

A large Japanese study unveiled this year demonstrated that among 66,000 toddlers, those with early dog exposure exhibited fewer dairy and nut allergies. Similarly, a publication in the Journal of Paediatrics highlighted a reduced risk of developing eczema for children living with a family dog, although, intriguingly, cat ownership showed an opposite effect. This phenomenon is attributed to the beneficial bacteria our canine companions share, helping the development of a young immune system. As Professor Rachael Tarlinton from the University of Nottingham puts it, “When you are very young and your microbiome is being established, it’s paramount that you are exposed to a wide variety of bacteria.”

Happily, the bacterial benefits do not end in childhood; they extend well into adulthood. “Maintaining a diverse gut microbiome is key to good overall health,” says Professor Tim Spector, co-founder of Zoe. These minute bugs serve as personal pharmacies, concocting chemicals known as postbiotics, essential for our bodies to operate smoothly.

But the blessings of dog ownership go beyond the microscopic.

Johns Hopkins Medicine reveals that petting a dog reduce stress, and the companionship of a dog induces a feel-good effect, similar to the bond shared between mothers and babies. 84% of individuals grappling with severe stress reported substantial relief when they had a dog by their side, and 40% found a reduction in medication needs.

And, of course, walking dogs serves as a fitness booster, helping with weight issues, and promoting cardiovascular health. Particularly beneficial for the elderly, with a 2017 study showing that dog owners aged 65 and above boasted fitness levels resembling those of people a decade younger.

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