Can pets improve human immunity? Study suggests so

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
Pets Image
Research suggests that pets offer more than just companionship

This year has taught us all the importance of immunity and all of us are doing our bit to strengthen this function.

The methods for achieving immunity differ greatly in practicality and in scientific terms. But could it be that one of the ways to boost immune function is right under your nose? Do our pets have an effect on our immunity, and if so, how?

Modern-day humans spend a substantial part of their lives with pets, with 65 percent of households having at least one. So, it’s no wonder that researchers want to know if our well being is influenced from all this time with domesticated animals. Recent research data confirm a range of health benefits associated with pet ownership.

Health Benefits

One of the most important links between our well being and the animals is the psychological advantage of having a pet. In a recent study, having a pet was associated with improved psychological well-being for people with mental health problems.

Of the 2,000 pet owners surveyed, 74% reported gains in mental health from pet ownership. Other research indicates that pets can also help prevent death from occurring. A 2019 analysis of data from more than 3 million people found that dog ownership was linked with a 24 percent reduction in the risk of dying over a 10-year period.

More precisely, how does our pets affect our immunity? One way may be by reducing our risk of developing allergic diseases. Although the evidence is a little mixed, a better picture emerges when looking at the immune effects of specific pets.

For example, early life exposure to any pet was associated with a decreased risk of developing eczema, an allergic skin disease, says a 2012 study. While the advantage was high for those who owned dogs, it disappeared in those exposed to cats. Similarly, early-life dog exposure was associated with a lower risk of subsequent allergies, but cat exposure was not.

Data also indicate that exposure to pets may have an effect on particular aspects of the immune system. After petting a puppy, volunteers showed a substantial rise in the salivary level of an immune antibody called IgA, a key player in our immune defense. When exposed to an immune-activating signal, children’s cells exposed to cats developed different immune molecules than children exposed to dogs.

Further it is possible that one of the main effects of animals on our immunity is our stress response. Chronic psychological stress is well known to weaken our immune system, weakening our ability to combat infections while increasing inflammation.

Pets may be able to help avoid this negative effect by lowering tension through companionship and promoting social relations with others. Research has shown that exposure to a therapy dog can help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In another stress-inducing trial, children with access to their pet dogs reported less psychological pressure.

Finally, it is worth noting that the immune effects of pet ownership could be partially due to changes in our microbes. Scientists are constantly researching how our health is influenced by the bugs that live on and in us. It turns out that our microbes have a significant impact and effect on our immune system. That’s why it’s interesting to note that adult dog owners and dogs share similarities in their skin microbes.

Moreover, we all know that pets help us stay active, socialize, keep us safe and gives us a sense of responsibility.

Although it is interesting that certain pets can occasionally increase our risk of such infections, research suggests that our furry friends can offer immunity benefits to many of us.

At a time when so many of us are trying to strengthen our immunity, we should be grateful that our pets are probably giving us more than just a simple companionship.