Furry friends: the benefits of pet exposure on gut health and more



Not only are your furry friends good companions, but they can also influence you and your baby's gut microbiome [1]. Having a pet not only can bring you joy—but also some beneficial microbes.

For example, having a household pet has been shown to increase the levels of friendly bacteria known as Akkermansia [2]. While cats and dogs are by far the most studied, it’s possible that other furry pets like bunnies, hamsters, and rats have a similar impact.

Exposure to pets during pregnancy 

Spending time with a pet during pregnancy has been shown to be beneficial for babies. 

Having pets around during pregnancy is shown to increase levels of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira in babies at 3-4 months of age [3]. These two bacteria can potentially decrease your child’s risk of developing:

  • Atopy, a tendency for the body’s immune system to develop certain allergies, such as asthma and eczema [4] 
  • Obesity [5]

An increase in the diversity of microbes within the Firmicutes phylum is seen in children whose moms had exposure to pets during pregnancy. Firmicutes are an essential part of the infant gut that play a role in reducing oxidative stress within the gut environment [6].

Having exposure to a pet cat or dog during pregnancy can also reduce the risk of your baby developing food allergy [7].

However, it is also important to be cautious when cleaning up after your pet. 

For instance, unfriendly bugs known as Toxoplasma gondii can be spread through your cat's fecal matter, which can happen while you are cleaning up their litter box. This can cause toxoplasmosis, which can be partially dangerous to developing babies while in the mother’s womb [8]. Avoid changing cat litter if possible, or wear disposable gloves and wash your hands with water and soap afterwards.

Exposing your baby to pets

Apart from being cute together, dogs and babies may influence each other’s microbes that impact the immune system. Individuals who have dogs at home have higher Bifidobacterium and Akkermansia levels than those who do not. These bacterial species have been shown to improve the baby immune system. Even the dust from homes with dogs has a higher bacterial richness and higher levels of bacterial species than dust from homes without dogs [9]. 

Different studies have shown that babies who live with dogs or cats during their first year of life have a lower risk of developing allergic disease, such as:

  • Food allergy
  • Asthma
  • Atopy
  • Eczema [7], [10]–[13].

Exposing your toddler to pets

Pets can also influence your toddler. The gut microbiome of children with dogs is found to have higher levels of beneficial bacteria, including:

  • Ruminococcus
  • Lachnospiraceae 

When dogs were fed with a canine-specific probiotic, a reduction in Bacteroides levels was detected in both the dog and child’s gut microbiome [14]. Bacteroides are sometimes good, sometimes bad bacteria that can potentially cause significant infections [15]. So having lower levels of Bacteroides may be good for your gut microbiome.

Exposure to pets during childhood and adulthood

Exposure to pets during childhood or adulthood has also been shown to help reduce the risk of certain diseases, such as:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension [16]–[18]

As you can see, our furry friends not only bring us joy and companionship, they also do wonders for our gut microbiome. So go ahead and give your pet an extra treat or two, because they're doing more than just filling your heart with love – they're filling your gut with good bacteria.

And if you don't have a pet yet, what are you waiting for? Your gut microbiome will thank you, and so will your new furry best friend!


[1] A. R. Sitarik et al., “Dog introduction alters the home dust microbiota,” Indoor Air, vol. 28, no. 4, pp. 539–547, Jul. 2018, doi: 10.1111/ina.12456.

[2] A. E. Kates et al., “Household Pet Ownership and the Microbial Diversity of the Human Gut Microbiota,” Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol., vol. 10, 2020, doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2020.00073.

[3] H. M. Tun et al., “Exposure to household furry pets influences the gut microbiota of infant at 3-4 months following various birth scenarios,” Microbiome, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 40, Apr. 2017, doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0254-x.

[4] M. Candela et al., “Unbalance of intestinal microbiota in atopic children,” BMC Microbiol., vol. 12, p. 95, Jun. 2012, doi: 10.1186/1471-2180-12-95.

[5] X. Chen et al., “Alteration of the gut microbiota associated with childhood obesity by 16S rRNA gene sequencing,” PeerJ, vol. 8, 2020, doi: 10.7717/peerj.8317.

[6] V. Sagheddu, V. Patrone, F. Miragoli, E. Puglisi, and L. Morelli, “Infant Early Gut Colonization by Lachnospiraceae: High Frequency of Ruminococcus gnavus,” Front. Pediatr., vol. 4, p. 57, 2016, doi: 10.3389/fped.2016.00057.

[7] H. Okabe et al., “Associations between fetal or infancy pet exposure and food allergies: The Japan Environment and Children’s Study,” PloS One, vol. 18, no. 3, p. e0282725, 2023, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282725.

[8] C.-C. for D. C. and Prevention, “CDC - Toxoplasmosis - General Information - Pregnant Women,” Dec. 13, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/pregnant.html (accessed Apr. 04, 2023).

[9] J. M. Mäki et al., “Associations between dog keeping and indoor dust microbiota,” Sci. Rep., vol. 11, no. 1, p. 5341, Mar. 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-84790-w.

[10] D. R. Ownby, C. C. Johnson, and E. L. Peterson, “Exposure to dogs and cats in the first year of life and risk of allergic sensitization at 6 to 7 years of age,” JAMA, vol. 288, no. 8, pp. 963–972, Aug. 2002, doi: 10.1001/jama.288.8.963.

[11] T. Marrs et al., “Dog ownership at three months of age is associated with protection against food allergy,” Allergy, vol. 74, no. 11, pp. 2212–2219, Nov. 2019, doi: 10.1111/all.13868.

[12] V. Ojwang et al., “Early exposure to cats, dogs and farm animals and the risk of childhood asthma and allergy,” Pediatr. Allergy Immunol. Off. Publ. Eur. Soc. Pediatr. Allergy Immunol., vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 265–272, Apr. 2020, doi: 10.1111/pai.13186.

[13] T. Fall et al., “Early Exposure to Dogs and Farm Animals and the Risk of Childhood Asthma,” JAMA Pediatr., vol. 169, no. 11, p. e153219, Nov. 2015, doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3219.

[14] C. Gómez-Gallego et al., “The Composition and Diversity of the Gut Microbiota in Children Is Modifiable by the Household Dogs: Impact of a Canine-Specific Probiotic,” Microorganisms, vol. 9, no. 3, p. 557, Mar. 2021, doi: 10.3390/microorganisms9030557.

[15] H. M. Wexler, “Bacteroides: the good, the bad, and the nitty-gritty,” Clin. Microbiol. Rev., vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 593–621, Oct. 2007, doi: 10.1128/CMR.00008-07.

[16] A. Lai and S. Bong, “IDDF2020-ABS-0226 IBS and animal exposure,” Gut, vol. 69, no. Suppl 2, pp. A70–A70, Nov. 2020, doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2020-IDDF.132.

[17] W. P. Anderson, C. M. Reid, and G. L. Jennings, “Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Med. J. Aust., vol. 157, no. 5, pp. 298–301, Sep. 1992.

[18] S. Surma, S. Oparil, and K. Narkiewicz, “Pet Ownership and the Risk of Arterial Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease,” Curr. Hypertens. Rep., vol. 24, no. 8, pp. 295–302, Aug. 2022, doi: 10.1007/s11906-022-01191-8.