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You dirty, dirty dog: Homes with canines swarming with bacteria

I admit it, my roommate is a bit of a slob.

She tosses her toys all over the floor with reckless abandon, cleans herself with her tongue and makes rogue attempts to drink out of the toilet bowl. If my dog Ruby weren't so impossibly cute, I'd toss her out. (But seriously, this face is irresistible.)

Turns out, I'm living with a lot more than just a lovable, slobbery beast, and my house is brimming with more than just excitement and affection – I'm also living with a staggering amount of bacteria.

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According to this study from the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University, households with a dog are crawling with much more varied, complicated types of bacteria than homes without pooches.

The findings were part of a bigger study exploring how the microbes found in homes affected health and well-being – and the results had me briefly questioning my choice of roomie.

"When you bring a dog into your house," the study says, "you are not just bringing a dog, you are also introducing a suite of dog-associated taxa directly into your home environment, some of which may have direct or indirect effects on human health."

But I vacuum a lot, more than any sane human being should. Won't that cut it?

"The presence of dogs had significant effects on both the diversity and the types of bacteria found within homes on surfaces that may be in direct contact with dogs (e.g., pillows) and those that they are unlikely to ever touch (television screens)."

So even kitchen cutting boards, the study found, were brimming with pooch-related germs. Ruby, pack your bags.

"The presence of dogs," reads the study's abstract, "had a significant effect on bacterial community composition in multiple locations within homes as the homes occupied by dogs harboured more diverse communities and higher relative abundances of dog-associated bacterial taxa."

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But wait – not so fast, Rubes. While the study didn't name the specific kind of bacteria in each household, the researchers did point out that most of these germs were not dangerous – and, in fact, had some health benefits.

The diversity of bacteria in a home, they found, could actually reduce allergic reactions: "in particular," the study says, "research suggests that pregnant mothers who live in houses with dogs are less likely to give birth to children who go on to develop allergies or atopic dermatitis."

Take that, anti-dog people. Truth is, I'd take a dog-dwelling home any day: the bacteria along with the love, the germs along with the goofy beast.

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About the Author
Editor in the Opinion section

Amberly McAteer is an editor in the Opinion section at The Globe and Mail. She has been a homepage editor, online editor and community editor in Features - including Life, Travel, Style, Arts and Books. She's written columns about her quest to run a 10K and find the perfect dog. More


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