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Research to Look at Relationship Between Pet Ownership, Human Gut Microbiome and Risk of Heart Disease

The researchers aim to characterize the impact of pet ownership on the adult gut microbiota.

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(PRESS RELEASE) WASHINGTON, DC — The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) will fund a new study conducted by Indiana University-Bloomington’s School of Public Health researchers Drs. Alyce Fly, Ming Li and Katharine Watson. The researchers aim to characterize the impact of pet ownership on the adult gut microbiota, which has been shown to influence the role of cardiovascular disease (CVD) development. Fly, Li and Watson hypothesize that differences in the gut microbiota of cat and dog owners relative to non-owners are associated with reduced CVD risk.

“Studies have found that living with cats or dogs imparts health benefits associated with the gut microbiota of infants and children, such as a reduced risk of developing asthma and other immune-related diseases,” Principal Investigator Katharine Watson, MA BVMS, explains. “Studies have also shown that gut microbiota health is associated with reduced cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. However, it is not known whether the gut microbiota of adult pet owners differs from non-owners. As pet ownership is associated with benefits to the gut microbiota of infants, it is probable that adults who live with pets may have similar benefits and that these may play a role in CVD risk reduction.”

“HABRI is proud to support this novel research into the relationship between pet ownership, gut microbiota, and risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman notes. “Science tells us that pets can influence the physical and mental health of owners, and this project will explore an important aspect of the physiological underpinnings of the human-animal bond.”

Drs. Alyce Fly and Ming Li will serve as co-investigators on the study which may help to determine whether living with a cat or dog is associated with a richer and more diverse adult gut microbiome and whether this, in turn, may mediate reduced prevalence of CVD. CVD is the leading cause of death and disability and the most common non-communicable disease in many countries, including the United States.

The research team will analyze data from the American Gut Project (AGP), a cross-sectional dataset containing RNA samples and paired metadata, including pet ownership, demographic, lifestyle, and health information. Approximately 2,000 people aged 50 to 85 will be included using data collected between 2012 and 2020. Gut microbial species will be characterized and statistical analyses will be used to estimate the association between microbial species, cat and dog ownership, and CVD. A mediation analysis will test whether the gut microbiome influences any difference between the prevalence of CVD among cat and dog owners and non-owners.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate the gut microbiota of adult pet owners and the first to test the hypothesis that gut microbiota are mediated by pet ownership to reduce CVD risk,” Watson says.

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For more information about the School of Public Health, click here. To learn more about the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, visit www.habri.org

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