Children that grow up with dogs may have some protection from Crohn's disease later in life, according to new research.
The study, presented at Digestive Disease Week on Monday (23 May), analysed responses to a questionnaire sent to some 4,300 first-degree relatives of people with Crohn's disease.
The team analysed several environmental factors, including family size, the presence of dogs or cats in the household and the number of bathrooms. The analysis also included age at the time of exposure.
Their findings show that exposure to dogs, especially between the ages of five and 15, was associated with healthy gut permeability and balance between the gut microbes and the body's immune response – all of which may protect against Crohn's disease.
The team noticed a similar trend with exposure to dogs across all age groups.
Dr Williams Turpin, senior author and research associate with Mount Sinai Hospital and the University of Toronto, explains: “It could potentially be because dog owners get outside more often with their pets or live in areas with more green space, which has been shown previously to protect against Crohn’s.”
The scientists hope their findings may help doctors determine which patients may be at greater risk of developing Crohn's. However, they stress that the reasons why dog ownership appears to protect against the disease remain unclear.
New research by Crohn's and Colitis UK shows that more than half a million people (one in 123) in the country live with the conditions. It most often develops in young people, smokers, and those who have a close family member with irritable bowel disease.