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Having a pet dog can reduce risk of schizophrenia

Dogs are believed to be the ever-faithful companion. They will stand by their mistress or master no matter the circumstances. That is why pet dogs can be our confidante, our friend, the being we reach out to at the end of a hard day at work. 

There’s more to the human-dog connection than friendship

But there’s more to the human-dog connection than friendship, says a new study conducted at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Research at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre reveals that there’s a correlation between exposure to a pet dog early on in life and the development of schizophrenia at a more mature age. 

Dr Robert Yoken, the lead author of the research paper published in the journal Plos One, explains the reason behind the study: ‘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.’

Older research had identified that a pet like a cat or a dog can bring alterations to the human immune system through allergic reactions and microbe exposure. Studies had also shown that contact with a pet can reduce stress. But this is the first time that the correlation between exposure to dogs and the risk of schizophrenia has been extensively studied. The research covered 1,371 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65, and stumbled upon a very surprising discovery: those who had a pet dog when they were thirteen years of age or younger were significantly less prone—as high as 24%—to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Children who had played with a dog at the time of their birth or when they were under the age of three showed the highest benefits from this exposure.  

Protective effect from contact with dogs

Dr Yoken concluded, ‘There are several plausible explanations for this possible “protective” effect from contact with dogs—perhaps something in the canine microbiome that gets passed to humans and bolsters the immune system against or subdues a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.’ In layman’s terms, this would mean that dogs expose their owners to a number of micro-organisms which result in immune-boosting effects and, in turn, in the prevention of schizophrenia in humans who are genetically predisposed to it. 

So, if you are thinking of what to gift your young daughter or nephew on their birthday, try giving him or her a cute dog. 

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