Parents Share More (Germs) with Their Dogs than Their Children

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Poncho the pit bull mix kissing his owner by I JLantzy
Poncho the Pit Bull Mix Kissing His Owner by I,JLantzy

Boulder, Colorado — Parents with dogs may love their children but when it comes to sharing, pets win — that is if the sharing is of bacteria.

A team led by Associate Professor Rob Knight, a scientist in the ongoing National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project, and doctoral student Se Jin Song recently released a study of the types and transfer modes of microbes from the guts, tongues, foreheads and palms of members of 60 American families.

This research was supported by eLIFE, a joint initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust Fund. The team members are studying bacterial communities to better understand how they can prevent and treat disease.

Knight and his team included 159 people and 36 dogs in the study. Seventeen of the families had children at home, ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years old. 17 of the family had neither dogs nor kids. Each family consisted of at least one couple ranging between 26 and 87. All the children were biologically related to their parents. The team swabbed different parts of the human and dog bodies to get microbial samples. Human samples came from the tongue, forehead, palms and fecal samples. Dogs were sampled from the same areas except that the team swabbed the fur instead of skins and paws instead of hands.

The team was surprised to find such a strong microbial link between the humans and their dogs. In effect, the team noted that there seems to be a stronger microbial link between parents and dogs than humans and children.

Knight has been quoted as saying that one of the biggest surprises is the fact that they could detect such a strong connection between the humans and the pets. Knight says that the microbial connection between humans and pets is much stronger than that between parents and children.