As a big fan of dogs and proud owner of Roxie the schnoodle (pictured), I may be biased (OK, I am very biased), but I love to hear about the ways our canine friends enhance human well-being. That’s why research soon to get underway at the University of Arizona caught my eye.
Participants are being recruited for a study exploring whether dogs can improve human health by having a probiotic effect on the body. Researchers note that probiotics are often called “good” bacteria because they keep the intestines healthy, assist in digesting food and probably help the immune system. So the question is: Does living with a dog encourage sufficient growth of positive microorganisms in the human gut to improve physical and mental health in older adults?
“We essentially want to find out, is a dog acting like yogurt in having a probiotic effect,” says Kim Kelly an anthropology doctoral student and one of the primary investigators on the study.
Participants, all age 50 or older, will be paired with canine companions from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and will live with the dogs in their homes for three months. According to an announcement, researchers will begin by noninvasively evaluating the humans’ gut bacteria, diet, physical activity levels and immune function, as well as the gut bacteria and physical activity levels of the dogs. “Follow-up evaluations will take place after one, two and three months to look for any positive impacts on gut microflora in either the humans or the dogs.” Researchers also will note any changes in the mental health and emotional well-being of both the people and the animals.
It’s the first study conducted under the university’s new Human-Animal Interaction Research Initiative, which “aims to bring together researchers across disciplines to explore the mutual benefits of human-animal relationships for health and well-being.”