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Dog days of summer: Homes with dogs have more bacteria, study shows

By: Jesse Byrnes
June 11, 2013 Updated: June 11, 2013 at 1:40 pm
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While it has long been suggested that the presence of dogs in the house reduces the risk of allergenic diseases for pet owners, a body of research from North Carolina State University shows that pooches track more bacterial variation into the home - but it's not necessarily a bad thing, many say.

The findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE, show that homes with dogs see greater levels of bacterial diversity and their presence affects the types of bacteria found on surfaces with direct and indirect contact with dogs, such as pillows and TV screens.

Researchers tested 40 homes in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina, sampling places such as the kitchen counter, toilet seat, pillowcase, door handle and TV screen.

While having a dog in the house can bring in more bacteria, many contend that merely having more bacteria isn't a reason to get rid of the pooch.

Generally, there aren't any seriously harmful bacteria that dogs can bring into the home, according to Bill Letson, medical director of El Paso County Public Health.

"We all have bacteria all over our skin," said Mike Stahl, a veterinarian with Centennial Animal Hospital in Colorado Springs. "You're always going to find bacteria. They populate the skin and protect from bad bacteria."

Stahl said that he doesn't think anyone is getting sick from a dog and that a lot of allergies exist because people aren't exposed to more germs. "We're probably living too clean," he continued.

With two young boys in the house, Stahl doesn't worry about his Newfoundland bringing anything harmful inside.

"It's hard to believe that it's going to bring in something that's going to make you sick," Stahl said, noting an exception for dog owners being if the pooch steps in stool outside and tracks it indoors.

When it comes to certain staph bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), "a lot of times it's not really the dog that's the culprit, more it's the person," said John Boley, a veterinarian with Animal Hospital of Colorado Springs.

Typically, dog owners are concerned more about ticks, fleas and intestinal parasites, Boley said. He added that a vet should evaluate a dog if it appears that the pet has a skin or ear infection.

For many, allergens are a greater focus.

"We see a lot of pet owners that have the pets that they're allergic to in their homes," said Eric Caplan, vice president of Colorado Springs Allergy and Asthma Clinic.

"They're kind of like little Swiffers with four legs," Caplan said of dogs, noting that many allergies are not related just to pets but pollen from trees and weeds.

The most common types of house dust include pollen and dandruff with some dirt debris, Caplan explained.

People that are allergic to their pets generally have problems in the winter, Caplan said, with doors and windows closed.

In spring and summer, grass pollen may be more of an issue for allergy sufferers.

Caplan recommends that those with pet allergies keep animals out of the bedroom, get carpet out of the bedroom and switch to hard wood, laminate or linoleum, as well as install True HEPA filters. This also can help with bacteria, Caplan said.

"It's tough to allergy-proof your entire home," Caplan added, but suggested that people keep them as clean as possible.

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