It turns out that man's best friend might could also hold a key to lessening those pesky allergic reactions.
Researchers from the University of Arizona are launching a new study to see if bacteria found on dogs (and their saliva) can help lessen the sneezing, itching, hives of an allergic reaction and other immune responses. The 12-week study plans to see if a dog’s microbiome, or normal bacteria ecosystem, can help its human owner's immune system.
The upcoming study will put match people between the ages of 50 and 60 with dogs and then measure to see if their immune response are affected by the presence of the dog over 12 weeks, the researchers told ABC News today.
In theory the dog’s microbiome would beneficially influence the human’s microbiome, which would affect the human’s immune system response.
Dr. Charles Raison, a professor of psychiatry at University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and lead researcher, said the dog could potentially work almost as a “probiotic” and help build healthy bacteria colonies in the human owner.
“We’re not really individuals, we’re sort of like communities [with bacteria]," Raison told ABC News. “These bacteria can powerfully impact brains and [immune health.]”
Raison said allergy and immunologist researchers have been searching for why certain immune diseases, including allergies and asthma, have increased in the Western world. One theory has been that human microbiomes have been depleted by less exposure to certain harmless bacteria. A dog could in theory help restore that balance.
“If the dogs and human owners look similar microbiota-wise ... then it means dogs are basically having probiotic-enhancing microbiota of human owners,” Raison said.
The study is just the first step to investigating how dogs and their bacteria can affect immune health, he said, noting that he next wants to do another study with children.
Dr. Donna Hummell, a clinical director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News that earlier studies found that infants born to a household with dogs had lower rates of allergies and asthma and she’s interested to see if this study can shed light on what is happening on a bacterial level.
"Dogs spread their bacteria around more than cats do, particularly because dogs like to lick things and lick people and lick themselves in the process," said Hummell, who is not involved with this study. She noted it could explain “what is happening with bacteria when [people are] living with an animal.”
Researchers have found positive news that introducing healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal system seems to help other inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease but that the research on bacteria's influence on our immune system is new, Hummell said.
"Influence of bacteria on immune system on the individual [we're] just beginning to dissect and sort out," she said.