Well, the answer to this is: yes, they might. This will probably not come as a shock to many of us dog lovers, who have already experienced different benefits, and know about other positive research which shows the connection between having a dog, and health and well-being. So now: “a study from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that being around “man’s best friend” from an early age, may lessen the chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult”. So let’s take a closer look at the research.
Putting a Spotlight on the Immune System
The lead author of the study, which was recently published in the journal, PLOS, is a professor of neurovirology in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and chair of the Stanley Division of Pediatric Neurovirology, named Robert Yolken, M.D. He stated that: “Serious psychiatric disorders have been associated with alterations in the immune system linked to environmental exposures in early life, and since household pets are often among the first things with which children have close contact, it was logical for us to explore the possibilities of a connection between the two”.
America is a country of animal lovers, and is home to a whopping 90 million pet dogs and 94 million pet cats. Former researchers have pinpointed: “early life exposures to pet cats and dogs as environmental factors that may alter the immune system”. This can come about from multiple factors, including: stress reduction to brain chemistry brought about by pets; alterations in an individual’s home microbiome due to the animals; having contact with animal viruses and bacteria; and allergic responses.
Lower Levels of Schizophrenia
In Baltimore, Yolken, and other team members at the Sheppard Pratt Health System, looked at the mental health of 1,371 men and women (aged 18 to 65). These comprised: 594 controls, 396 individuals who suffered schizophrenia, and 381 who had bipolar disorder. They analyzed a possible link between the participants’ exposure to their pet dog or cat that lived in their household up to the time they were aged 12. In the case of schizophrenia: “the researchers were surprised to see a statistically significant decrease in the risk of a person developing the disorder if exposed to a dog early in life”, although they stress that far more research is needed.
The data which was recorded about each participant, included: their socio-economic status from parental education; their place of birth; ethnicity/race; gender and age. When they debated the reason for the results, a percentage of the scientists came to the conclusion that: “this immune modulation may alter the risk of developing psychiatric disorders to which a person is genetically or otherwise predisposed”.
When discussing the research, Yolken noted that in the case of schizophrenia: “The largest apparent protective effect was found for children who had a household pet dog at birth or were first exposed after birth but before age 3”.