dog and microbiome

Man’s – and Microbiome’s – Best Friend

Perhaps the most unconditional love we experience is from our dogs. Dogs see us at our best and our worst and never falter in their loyalty and affection. They are faithful companions, cuddly sleeping partners, energetic exercise buddies, and great listeners. More broadly, dogs can significantly aid in managing and mitigating their owner’s depression, and studies have shown that therapy dogs can reduce human symptoms of a variety of ailments, including anxiety, pain, high blood pressure, and even cancer. Recent research shows that the healing power of dogs may go much deeper: all the way to our gut.

Studies have found that dogs were domesticated somewhere between 32,000 and 10,000 years ago, and, during our time together, humans and dogs have shared more than just emotional bonds. We’ve also shared bacteria, including the protective effects of the microbiome for human (and canine!) health.

The advancing science of genetic sequencing has enabled researchers to investigate the dog microbiome more closely to determine its similarity with that of humans. A look into this research reveals how the microbiome can affect not only the health of our canine friends, but also the surprising potential benefits to their human companions.

It’s not only humans who depend on the microbiome

Like humans, dogs have a distinctive microbiome across their body sites, with different bacteria present in the mouth, in the digestive system, and on the skin. Canine microbiomes are highly diverse, with the most diversity concentrated around their noses (think of your dog’s nuzzles as a microbiome boost). Just as every dog is unique, their microbiomes are unique, as well. Diet, genetics, antibiotic exposure, and environment can all determine the bacterial makeup of a dog’s gut.

Researchers have begun investigating the role of dogs’ microbiomes in their health, too. Disturbances in the canine microbiome have been found to possibly trigger allergies, skin conditions, inflammatory bowel disease, and other illnesses.

Humans and dogs share more than just friendship—they share bacteria

As close as you are to your dog, your microbiomes may be even closer. According to one 2013 study, cohabitating family members share bacteria from their skin microbiomes with each other—and with their dogs. In fact, just having a dog could increase the similarity of your microbiome to that of other dog owners, even if you don’t live together. Families with dogs also had the highest levels of similarity and shared more skin microbiota with one another than families without dogs. Looks like having a dog really does bring the family closer to each other.

Much of this microbial closeness is due to environmental factors. Scientists hypothesize that simple skin-to-skin transfer accounts for a lot of this bacterial sharing. Humans and dogs also exchange bacteria through the air, which has such a pronounced effect on household dust that researchers are able to predict whether or not a household has a dog or cat based only on a bacterial sample from the home.

There’s could be an even deeper explanation for the bacterial similarity between you and Fido, and it lies in the long history of canine-human cohabitation. Dogs, in general, have a more similar gut microbiome to humans than other mammals, sharing 26 percent of gut bacteria with humans. Scientists theorize that this is due to the long, collaborative history between dogs and humans.

How your dog’s microbiome benefits your health

You make sure to take good care of your dog’s health—but did you know that your dog’s microbiome could have a positive impact on your health, too?

There’s increasing evidence showing that bacteria from a dog’s microbiome may boost a human’s immune system. In fact, children in households with a dog have been found to have a reduced predisposition toward allergic reactions, perhaps due to the presence of common canine bacteria Ruminococcus and Oscillospira. In fact, your family dog may have helped lower your risk of allergies even before you were born, as prenatal exposure could lead to decreased IgE levels (the chemical indicating allergic reaction) in infants. The canine microbiome is so potent, a 2014 study found that even exposing mice to dust from a dog-owning household gave the animals increased protection against airway allergens.

The similarities between canine and human’ microbiota also make dogs great candidates for microbiome research. One study of the dog gut microbiome demonstrated that, just like in people, obese dogs’ gut microbiomes respond significantly to high-protein/low-carbohydrate diets—indicating the possibility that future research on the dog gut could be extrapolated to humans.

So next time the family dog jumps on you for affection or gives your toddler a big, sloppy kiss, think of life with your dog as an exchange of love and immunity. After tens of thousands of years together, it’s good to know that man’s best friend has our back (and our gut).


Prebiotics 101: What They Are, What They Do, and Where You Can Find Them

You’ve probably heard of probiotics, living microorganisms that support a healthy digestive tract. Eating them, or having them inside your gut, can help your digestive system function more efficiently and may contribute to a healthier immune system, among other health benefits.

But have you heard of prebiotics? According to the official definition, a prebiotic is any substance used by microorganisms inside the body that confers health benefits. Translation: prebiotics are beneficial microbes’ food. While researchers are still learning about their full potential to boost overall health or even treat disease, one thing is for certain—adding more prebiotics to your diet can give you a happier gut. Continue reading “Prebiotics 101: What They Are, What They Do, and Where You Can Find Them”

uBiome tests

Are uBiome’s Tests Reproducible? In a Word: Yes!

In our previous blog post –  which was also posted on Medium – we wrote about the use of 16S rRNA gene (“16S”) amplification and sequencing for the analysis of microbial communities, such as those found in our gut. One of the topics we wrote about was the reproducibility of 16S analysis. Reproducibility is how similar the outcome of a test is if you perform the same test multiple times. In order to consider a result reproducible,  you should be able to process the same sample multiple times, while maintaining consistent results.

We also recently wrote a scientific manuscript about the reproducibility of our sample collection and lab processes, which was posted as a preprint on bioRxiv. In this paper, which is ready for scientific peer review, we investigated how reproducible microbiome profiles generated in our laboratory are. Continue reading “Are uBiome’s Tests Reproducible? In a Word: Yes!”

questions you shouldn't be afraid to ask your gynecologist

Ten Questions You Might Be Afraid to Ask Your Gynecologist (But Shouldn’t Be)

There’s nothing like a trip to the gynecologist to make you feel glamorous, right? There’s the expertly tailored paper gown and the equally fashionable paper throw to drape over our knees. And who needs high heels when we can slip our dainty feet into cold, metal stirrups?

Okay, so maybe the thought of visiting the gynecologist ranks somewhere between getting a root canal and being audited by the IRS, but it’s an important part of your overall health. Anyone who’s had a yeast infection can attest to the importance of keeping one’s vagina healthy, but there’s much more to women’s health than care for down there.

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we reached out to Dina Bastawros, M.D., Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery Fellow at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, with ten questions we shouldn’t be afraid to ask our gynecologists. So wear those paper gowns proudly, and go to your next appointment armed with the bravery to broach burning questions such as: Continue reading “Ten Questions You Might Be Afraid to Ask Your Gynecologist (But Shouldn’t Be)”