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Dogs are great at bringing nature—bits of flora, fauna, dirt—into our homes. Now studies have shown that they also fetch a treasure of bacterial diversity “nesting” in their fur. This is not a bad thing. In fact, having a diverse microbiome environment can be very good for us.
North Carolina State University biologist Rob Dunn and colleagues are studying the microbes in home environments and found that the one variable that made the biggest difference in a home’s bacterial diversity was whether or not the family had a dog.
“When you bring a dog into your house …you are introducing a suite of dog-associated [microbe] taxa directly into your home…some of which may have direct or indirect effects on human health,” they write in PLoS ONE .
Other scientists have speculated that an exposure to greater numbers of microbes keeps the immune system from turning on the body. Plus, children living with dogs had fewer allergies and were healthier overall. Dunn added that, “Our study provides evidence to robustly support this assumption.” So do as Michael Pollan suggested: “wash your hands when pathogens or toxic chemicals are likely present, but maybe not after petting your dog.” Good news for dogs, and for us too