Doggie Slobber is Good for Kids


Here’s a tail-wagging excerpt from a book you might want to fetch: Let erkzkfebia
Them Eat Dirt
: Saving Your Child from an Oversanitized World, reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. It’s by the power team of Dr. Brett Finlay, a microbiologist specializing in bacterial infections who is also the Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the University of British Columbia, and  Dr. Marie-Claire Arietta, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Calgary. For more info, see:

Bring on the Slobberfest, by Dr. Brett Finlay and Dr. Marie-Claire

Like many parents and grandparents around the world, Nathan and his mom (from the anecdote above) had this notion that dogs, and dog slobber in particular, could make a baby sick. To some extent this is true. On rare occasions, dogs can pass on a disease to a child (or to anyone) because they can harbor all sorts of worms (heartworms, tapeworms, hookworms, etc.), other pathogenic bacteria, and viruses. However, these diseases are very rare among pets that are well looked after and that receive veterinary care periodically. Sure, if a dogs looks sick, has diarrhea or a skin rash or scab, it’s probably a good idea to get the dog to the vet instead of letting your kid roll around with his furry friend, but there’s a very low risk of catching an infectious disease from a dog that receives good care.

On the contrary, owning a dog that goes outside and allowing it to interact with children is actually beneficial for their health. Epidemiological research shows that kids that are exposed to dogs early in life have a decreased risk of developing asthma and allergies. A 2013 article published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology summarized the results of twenty-one studies that aimed to figure out what factors contribute to the development of childhood allergies. What they found is that exposure to a dog during pregnancy or before the age of one decreases the risk of developing eczema (a skin disease) by 30 percent. In several other studies the presence of a dog (but, again, not a cat) is also associated with a reduced risk of asthma, decreasing the risk by about 20 percent. This recent information has surprised allergists around the world, who for years recommended removing pets from home to reduce allergies.

Many people do develop allergies to pets, and the presence of a pet in the house can exacerbate the problem if a child is allergic to something else. In these cases it makes sense to consider finding another home for the pet. However, since studies show that the presence of a dog may prevent the development of asthma and allergies, unless Milo gets sick or someone develops an allergy to him, promoting contact between Rory and his four-legged friend is actually good parenting!

The strong relationship between having a dog and the reduction of asthma and allergy risk certainly raises the question: what’s so special about dogs?

We’ve suggested that it’s the microbes in the dirt that a dog brings into the house, but others remain skeptical, claiming that it could perhaps be something that the dog produces instead (this is a good example of the type of things scientists love to bicker about!). What settles the argument in favor of the dirt microbes theory is a study led by Dr. Susan Lynch from the University of California in San Francisco. This study collected dust samples from homes with and without dogs, and showed that upon exposing mice to the different dust samples, the mice that were given dust from homes with dogs were less likely to develop asthma. What’s more, they looked at the type of bacteria in the dust samples and found a specific species, Lactobacillus johnsonii, associated with the improvement of asthma in mice. When they grew this bacterium in the lab and fed it to mice in the absence of any dust, they found that it lowered the risk of asthma, demonstrating that this and perhaps other species of beneficial bacteria, along with the dogs that bring them into households, are responsible for decreasing asthma risks.

These types of studies have important implications. If dogs transmit bacteria that make humans less prone to an immune disease, this implies that dogs carry around probiotic species that are beneficial for human health. What are they? Can they be grown in a lab and given to kids? We have a lot more to learn in this area, and scientists are certainly working on it. What is clear is that dogs and humans have a special partnership that goes beyond their loyal friendship. Dogs keep us dirtier, and as we have come to learn, kids benefit from this kind of exposure early on.

Two paws up! – L.

Thanks for the microbes, buddy!

Thanks for the bacteria, buddy!


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26 Responses to Doggie Slobber is Good for Kids

  1. BL September 20, 2016 at 10:25 am #

    Are children today growing up unfamiliar with dogs and becoming afraid of them?

    Several weeks ago I was at an Irish festival that included an area with Irish-breed dogs. Very friendly dogs you could go to and scratch their ears, etc.

    I noticed most of the children seemed afraid. They’d reach out and try to touch the dog at arm’s length and pull away if the dog tried to lick their hands or get closer. Some children just refused to go near the dogs at all.

  2. theresa September 20, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    The one thing I have never understood is people who have them but don’t think of them as family. I not a huge dog lover because I don’t like how they jump and bark but I love cats and I will always call to me hoping that I get kitty love.

  3. Anna September 20, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

    “The one thing I have never understood is people who have them but don’t think of them as family.”

    Really? I have a dog and she’s not family; she’s a dog. Personally, I cringe when the vet refers to me as my dog’s “mom” or hear people at the dog park talk about their “doggie children,” and I suspect such anthropomorphizing tends to make dogs less happy, not more so – presumably, dog happiness consists in being a dog to the max, not being a pretend human.

    Anyway, I’m glad the mess our dog creates is good for something, though I could do with less hair on the rugs and poop smears on the baseboards!

  4. En Passant September 20, 2016 at 12:12 pm #

    I hope Drs. Marie-Claire Arietta and Brett Finlay recall Arthur Guiterman’s short satirical poem, “Strictly Germ-Proof”.

    Although he wrote it about a century ago, it would still be a fitting anthem for their current book.

    You can find it at

    Last of its four verses:

    There’s not a Micrococcus in the garden where they play;
    They bathe in pure iodoform a dozen times a day;
    And each imbibes his rations from a Hygienic Cup—
    The Bunny and the Baby and the Prophylactic Pup.

  5. mer September 20, 2016 at 12:34 pm #

    Yes, too many people are raising kids that are deathly afraid of dogs. Having big fluffy dogs that are well socialized, helps with the kids at least (I’ve had Siberians and Bernese Mtn Dogs). Parents are still petrified. Kids pulling away: they were never told to let the dog sniff before petting. That’s wny I bring mine everywhere I can, my bank lets her come inside, she stands up at the counter to get her biscuit, and everyone including other customers get a smile on them.

    Dogs jump and bark because they are excited, happy, angry, scared. Trained/socialized dogs may still do that when playing, but in the house or when told to stop, they stop.

    One can love dogs without treating them as a substitute kid; they are family, but they are still a dog. Doesn’t lessen the hurt when you lose one, but all perspective.

  6. John B. September 20, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    Not just dogs, but children need to get outside and get dirty! This is what will help their immune system and make them healthier. But in our bubble-wrapping age, parents lather their kids up with anti-bacterial soap a couple of times a day and heaven forbid that a parent of today allow their child to run around outside barefoot. But this was common among kids of the 1960s. My cousin Patty NEVER wore shoes outside during the warm weather months.

    It’s common to see kids in the more poorer countries such as Egypt, India, Thailand and the Philippines barefoot on the street. Perhaps because their families can’t afford shoes AND/OR perhaps it’s just cultural. Either way, their feet get pretty dirty BUT it wouldn’t surprise me that they’re healthier for it too!

  7. lollipoplover September 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

    It’s the microbes!
    A recent study in NEJM studied Amish children and asthma:

    I love my dogs. Glad to hear that this mess we contain on a daily basis (muddy paws from the recent rain and a Chex mix of 3 different colored dog hairs, cat hairs, and long-haired daughters to add to the tumbleweeds), they are worth it for so many great reasons not just physical, but mental health as well.

    Dogs can comfort children and provide companionship through the rough spots in life. There’s nothing better than a faithful dog(s). Coming home after a bad day, when they’re sick, or just relaxing and snuggling with a dog on the sofa can fix most of their problems. My dogs (and kids!) are high energy and need a ton of exercise. We need to constantly walk or run these dogs to keep them from doing bad things inside the house. The kids are getting out of the house no matter the weather. I call the dogs my personal trainers, no app is needed to stare me down every morning to put on my running shoes. They are experts at doe eyes.

    One of the most rewarding dog experiences for our family was fostering an rehomed dog. He had been returned to shelters and rescues 4 times. We didn’t need or want another dog (already had 2 gooner rescues who acted like toddlers on Red Bull) but we agreed to foster him to find out what was wrong with him.
    Soooo many things were wrong with him! He ate furniture (pretty sure he never lived indoors), he dug giant crater holes all over the yard, but worst of all, he ran away! He would tunnel under our fence or head butt the fence posts to escape and then run like Forrest Gump all over the neighborhood. He was impossible to catch, super fast, and could run for hours. And he did! So bad and embarrassing to have to involve your entire neighborhood to catch your naughty dog. But they all helped us…I met so many nice people who tried to help me catch this idiot dog. Met some jerks, too. Many more strangers willing to help than I ever imagined, surprisingly.

    It’s been 2 years since we were deemed “Foster Failures” and adopted him. Despite his flaws, we welcomed him into our dog pack- our kids convinced us he was meant to be with our family. And yes, for us, dogs are part of our weird family. Honestly, he’s probably the sweetest, gentlest, kindest, dumbest dog I’ve ever known and has taught us more lessons about life and learning empathy than any other experience.
    And he’s such a good dog now- no more running away (we trained him on an e-collar, which he doesn’t even wear anymore). Most of my neighborhood knows him by name, though now he stays on a leash. We bring them everywhere, though I’ve been finding more community parks (especially sports fields) are No Dogs Allowed. Booo.

    I highly recommend fostering a dog (great way to try before you buy) to help a dog in need. And now you can convince your family it’s good for their health, too.

  8. Donna September 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    “The one thing I have never understood is people who have them but don’t think of them as family.”

    My dogs and cats are great, but when I list the members of my family, they are not included. They are our pets. Nothing more and nothing less.

    Can also say that I absolutely detest the expression “fur baby.” I would be hard pressed to come up with something I detest hearing more than that.

  9. Farmer's Daughter September 20, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

    Thanks to science, I don’t feel like too horrible of a mom for letting my 4 month old daughter get her fair share of puppy kisses (though I gently stop the canine affections when they cross into waterboarding). I also love our pediatrician for laughing and saying “Good, it builds her immune system” when I admitted to allowing such behavior.

    Yes, our two dogs are family members and dogs at the same time. It’s no more difficult to treat them as both than it is to treat kids like a family member and child at the same time.

  10. Denise September 20, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    I remember a professor in medical school saying that you had less to fear from a dog bite than a human bite. Of course, that was in the olden days of the 60’s.

  11. Anna September 20, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    Donna: “Can also say that I absolutely detest the expression “fur baby.” I would be hard pressed to come up with something I detest hearing more than that.” Yes, it’s absolutely vomit-inducing. It’s even worse than the “Mama Bear” trope a number of people on FRK have mentioned.

    Before a recent trip, we considered a boarding kennel, but I just couldn’t do it after reading all the nonsense on their website about how the kennel’s personnel knew how important our “fur babies” are to us, because they’re “parents” too. That, and the ridiculous upgrade packages where your dog gets a bedtime story or a blueberry facial. I mean, obviously my dog enjoys any time interacting with people, but seriously, a bedtime story? How about just pet her and talk to her for five minutes?

  12. Anna September 20, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    “I remember a professor in medical school saying that you had less to fear from a dog bite than a human bite.”

    Possibly, if all we’re considering are germs. But there’s also the insane number of pounds of pressure per square inch a dog’s jaws can exert. And then there’s the fact that – apart from a brief period of experimentation most toddlers go through at some point – humans typically don’t bite other humans!

  13. Katie September 20, 2016 at 2:47 pm #

    While I think it’s nice that some people think of their cats or dogs as family and at one point I did, I’m sick of people who constantly criticize, pet owners who are minimally taking care of their pets basic needs within reason. I feel like I’ve been the target of such criticism. Sorry, spending time with my children is more important and there is only so much time, I can spend with the cat, who isn’t particularly friendly anymore anyways. I’m so sick of being fleeced by the pet industry too. I honestly think when this cat dies I’m done with having pets forever.

  14. Katie September 20, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    BL “Are children today growing up unfamiliar with dogs and becoming afraid of them?”

    My husband and I have agreed we are never getting a dog. Start with the ridiculous expectations for taking care of a dog these days, add in the cost, and then factor in we live in an urban area and like living in apartments (which even when they allow pets rip you off with extra fees because you have one). I personally think if expectations for having a dog were more reasonable you would see a lot less dogs dying in animal shelters.

    I also won’t let my kids touch a dog without first checking with the owner about the dogs temperment. Both, my husband and myself have been bitten by dogs.

  15. lollipoplover September 20, 2016 at 3:19 pm #


    I grew up with Berners. They are the best nanny dogs and so good with small children despite their giant size.

    Just thought I’d share this one:

  16. Robin September 20, 2016 at 3:53 pm #

    As a life long dog lover and owner (including during three pregnancies and the total childhood period of my kids) I’d like to shout out a great big hurrah for this message!!

    And don’t bother thanking me kids for the increased health benefits this gave you as I would have had the dogs anyway; your health was a collateral good.

    I’d also like to point out to those people who think that dogs make too much mess that when you have small children in the house you will have cleaner floors if you have a dog because you will never have as much as a crumb left on there. A case in point: toddler in high chair and no dog – a lot of floor clean up. Toddler in high chair plus dog = clean floor; magic!

  17. Donald Christensen September 20, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    I love the analogy of the allergy that I heard a few posts ago. This one strengthens that message. The immune system needs to work in order to develop. There is a definite connection between the over-sanitized world and the huge increase in allergies. The body can react to peanuts as if they are poison! They aren’t, but the body responds as if it is so.

    The body responding to, “everything is poisonous” is the same as the mind believing that, “everything is dangerous”!

  18. mer September 20, 2016 at 4:41 pm #

    We went from 2 Sibes to 1 to none to a Berner. Big difference in temperament (and drool). Worst problem with Berners is lifespan: way too short. But they make up for it in the amount of love they give and they are great with kids.

  19. Jim Collins September 20, 2016 at 5:02 pm #

    When I was real small (just starting to walk) we had a Springer Spaniel named Rufus. My Mother would turn me loose in the yard and I’d go right to Rufus. She didn’t have to worry about me as long as I was with him. (try getting away from him)

    A few years ago I was filling out one of those if you forget your password questions, when I asked my Mother “Hey! Mom! Was Rufus my first pet or was I his? She answered back “You were his.”

  20. MichelleB September 20, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

    Anna – Before a recent trip, we considered a boarding kennel, but I just couldn’t do it after reading all the nonsense on their website about how the kennel’s personnel knew how important our “fur babies” are to us, because they’re “parents” too.

    We had the same experience when we boarded our cat while we were on vacation (didn’t have anyone to check up on her that week) Apparently my requirements of “please (try to) keep her alive and don’t abuse her” weren’t nearly as stringent as her other clients. I got to “parent’s name” on the form and just cringed. But we decided to go with the kennel instead of the vet’s office because she’d have a larger enclosure and wouldn’t be around a bunch of barking dogs.

  21. Gina September 20, 2016 at 8:20 pm #


  22. hineata September 21, 2016 at 4:29 am #

    Yes, treating dogs as family members is ridiculous. A dog is a dog, and I have yet to see anyone give birth to a dog.

    Can’t stand how ridiculous we as Westerners seem to have become about animals over the last decade or so. There was a teacher in a rural school not far from New Plymouth a few years ago who clubbed an errant possum to death in the school gym ….possums are noxious pests here, and disease spreaders, and anyway they go crazy when cornered, so he dealt with the wee beastie. You’d have though he’d killed Jesus, from some of the stupid comments that followed.

  23. Katie G September 21, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Unfamiliar does not equal frightened; my children don’t know any dogs well as we haven’t one and neither have any of our nearby friends. But, we’ve encouraged them to ask a dog’s person first and pet any dogs they see, if they’re interested. My 10-year-old long ago got past a legitimate scare of a diseased dog getting in her face when she was a toddler.

  24. Havva September 21, 2016 at 10:54 am #

    @BL, A few years ago my daughter and I came across a dog and I asked for permission for my daughter to approach. The dog owner said something very interesting. She said that she very much encouraged children to approach her dog. She said that she wanted to provide children with positive experiences with dogs, and that many children were terrified of dogs due to the failure of dog owners, of late, to teach their dogs discipline.

    I’ve also had dog owners complement me on the flip side of that. Thanking me for teaching my daughter to get permission, approach slowly from the front, offer the back of her hand, and back away when appropriate. One of the most profusely grateful dog owners had large, mostly docile dogs. The owner informed me that, unfortunately, she had a lot of experience with small children running up behind the dogs without warning and pulling their tails or jumping on the dogs from behind. The dogs, not surprisingly, react poorly to such treatment.

    It’s not just kids who are afraid. I’ve seen a number of dogs go nuts upon seeing my kid and the owners have to reign in the leash and often cross the street with the dog, many times apologizing in passing that the dog is scared of children.

    The combination of large numbers of children who have not learned the proper discipline of approaching a dog, and large numbers of dogs who don’t know the discipline of interacting with a child, sounds like just the sort of situation that leads to fear on both ends of the equation. In fact it is pretty logical to fear situations that have proved dangerous in the past, and which you have not been taught how to manage. Of course avoidance doesn’t get people, or dogs, past fear. Both need to be taught what to do.

  25. BL September 21, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    “Both need to be taught what to do.”

    The problem is that this ‘teaching’ turns out to be formulaic rules that are supposed to substitute for experience and judgment.

    It’s back to the whole free-range thing: when I was a kid, I had the run of a large neighborhood. Even if my own parents hadn’t had dogs (which they did), I encountered dogs all the time at friends’ houses, in their yards, etc. Nobody had to give me a list of rules. I saw how other people interacted with dogs and did the same. I’d no more think of jumping on a dog from behind than I would trying to walk everywhere on my hands.

    And I saw how other people judged when dogs were unsafe to approach – when they growled or snarled or have “that look” in their eyes. I can read dogs in that way very well – perfectly, so far, since I’ve never been bitten and I pat dogs all the time, some of them at first sight.

    I’m not at all confident around horses, since I really don’t have experience with them. We have Amish around here, so I’ll see horses hitched at the grocery store and other places. I also see horses on a multi-use trail. I don’t approach the horses.

  26. mer September 22, 2016 at 7:15 am #

    Horses, approach from the front so they can see you, move slowly, let them sniff, just like dogs. Watch your fingers, they like to nibble and can leave a nasty bruise.

    Mules are the ones to watch out for; they pretty much live to kick someone at least once in their life.