How Growing Up With A Family Dog Could Lower Your Risk For Crohn's Disease

Science shows that man's best friend comes with a host of physical and mental health benefits for humans. Not only do dogs provide us with a sense of companionship, but they also promote exercise, calm our nerves, and can even reduce one's blood pressure and heart rate when petting a dog, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Researchers from the American Gastroenterological Association presented preliminary study findings during their annual meeting for Digestive Disease Week. The research suggested that exposure to certain lifestyle factors, particularly during early childhood, may help protect against the development of Crohn's disease — among them was growing up with a family dog.

Often seen in those between the ages of 20 and 29, Crohn's disease is categorized as an inflammatory bowel disease (via National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases). Common symptoms include gastrointestinal discomfort, diarrhea, and weight loss. In more severe cases, the condition can lead to ulcers, malnutrition, intestinal blockages, and more.

The difference between cats and dogs when it comes to gut health

The study team gathered data and survey responses from more than 4,000 participants with a first-degree family member diagnosed with Crohn's disease. Researchers then looked at how age, family size, household pets, number of household bathrooms, living on a farm, consumption of unpasteurized milk, and consumption of well water each affected participant gut health.

When comparing cats versus dogs, study findings revealed that people exposed to dogs were shown to have a healthy balance between their gut microbiome and their body's immune response — two factors that may help prevent the development of Crohn's disease. This was particularly true for young children and adolescents between the ages of five and 15. These results did not prove true for cat owners, however. Offering a possible explanation, senior study author Dr. Williams Turpin stated in a news release, "It could potentially be because dog owners get outside more often with their pets or live in areas with more green space, which has been shown previously to protect against Crohn's."

Of the other factors examined in the study, larger family sizes were correlated with a healthy balance of gut bacteria later on in life for those who lived with three or more family members during their first year of life, as per the study research.