The question is one researchers from the University of Arizona hope to answer after an upcoming study, in which human participants will be paired with canine companions to determine the effects of the relationship on the bacterial population in the digestive tract.
Previous studies have linked dog ownership with better heart health and reduced stress, but anthropology doctoral student and study author Kim Kelly wants to delve more deeply into the story. The three-month study, a joint effort between the university and the Humane Society of Southern California, will examine whether or not living with a dog encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the human gut and whether it is enough to provide substantial physical and mental health benefits.
Researchers are currently recruiting adults 50 or over who are in good health. They will provide each adult with a dog and measure the gut bacteria levels of both at the beginning and the end of the study (as well as at the one- and two-month marks) in order to determine whether or not the relationship has had a positive impact on the gut microflora of either party.
Interestingly, earlier studies have shown that the longer they live together, dog owners and their companions tend to share a lot of the same gut bacteria—in large part because of all those wet, slobbery kisses. Kelly and her team hope to understand more about the relationship and its potential benefits, such as improved digestion and immune function.