Early companionship with “man’s best friend” shown to lessen the risk of developing dementia

December 30, 2019

Early life exposure to pet cats and dogs have been said to alter the human immune system through various means, including pet-induced stress reduction. A study from US-based Johns Hopkins Medicine now suggests that being around a dog,in particular, in early age may lessen the chance of developing schizophrenia later on. Researchers were surprised to note a statistically significant decrease in the risk of a person developing schizophrenia — by as much as 24% — if they were exposed to a pet dog before their 13th birthday.

The study assessed a population of about 1,370 men and women between 18 and 65, some of whom presented with a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder; these patients were recruited from inpatient, day hospital and rehabilitation programs of Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore. When study participants were asked if they had a household pet cat or dog or both during their first 12 years of life, “the largest apparent protective effect was found in children who had a household pet dog at birth or before age 3,” according to lead author Robert Yolken, a Paediatrics Professor at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center. 

However, the results suggest no risk association for bipolar disorder with being around dogs as an infant or young child; and could not link cats with either an increased or decreased risk of developing schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

From the findings, Yolken thinks that something in the canine microbiome that is passed to humans bolsters the immune system against or subdues a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia. In addition, as the most recent National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association reports that there are some 90 million pet dogs in the US, Yolken said that some 840,000 cases of schizophrenia (24% of the 3.5 million people diagnosed in the US) might then be prevented.

While most research has focused on early exposure to cats and psychiatric disorder development, Yolken said this study is among the first to consider contact with dogs as well. Hence, “better understanding of pet exposure and psychiatric disorders would allow us (scientists) to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies.”


Category: Features, Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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