You and Whose Army?
It’s been said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
We’ll come back to that, but perhaps more accurately, you are the sum total of the hundreds of trillions of microbes who live on and inside your body. Your own body cells count, but are far outnumbered by the microscopic species you cohabit with.
And that’s true for your dog or cat or significant other, animal or human.
As research progresses in the field now called the microbiome, or the populations of microbes intimately associated with you or your animal, we are learning all kinds of interesting things.
- You and your dog share common bacteria, fungi and viruses, especially on your skin.
- In a normal situation, the relationship is a commensal one: the bugs get a “house” to live in, and you derive benefits from them. Win-win.
- The diversity of these bugs both in and on you is very high when you are healthy.
- In diseased people and dogs, the diversity of microbe species falls.
- More flora exposure in early life, even from birth, makes healthier offspring.
Let’s look at some of what’s known in this fascinating world of who’s in and on us and our animals.
Got Skin in The Game? So Does Your Dog
You might guess that, if you kiss your dog frequently, you and your dog might share a lot of gut microbes. While that’s true to a certain extent, the real sharing was found in the skin flora you both have.
Makes sense, right? You’re petting, wrestling with, tick examining and brushing your dog multiple times a day. Close skin contact is bound to make sharing of external organisms common.
The breakthrough in understanding this came fairly recently when genetic sequencing took over from culturing the skin as a means of seeing “who’s living there?” In the days of swabbing skin and rolling that swab across a petri dish full of a growth medium, very few species were found.
Now, that swab is looked at with a whole new eye, called gene sequencing. And way more species are apparent that reside on our skin.
The skin flora, when in good balance, does nice things for us, much like the good guy gut populations do. They modulate the immune response and they prevent colonization of potentially pathogenic (disease causing) microbes.
Scary Skin Shifts
You’ve maybe heard these fear-inducing words,
He’s got a staph infection and we need to put him on these antibiotics for two weeks.”
Staph? Oh God, isn’t that the bug in the hospitals that’s now called MRSA and kills people? Like a lot?
Yes, MRSA stands for methicillin resistant staph aureus, and it can kill people.
But staphylococcus is a common bacteria on everyone’s skin. It’s considered “normal flora,” until it morphs into this antibiotic resistant form, and that’s usually when the body is sick with some disease first.
[As an aside, that whole antibiotic resistance fear? It goes away with homeopathy. Get the patient well, the bacteria pack up and leave, rather quickly.]
Our overuse of antibiotics as a society holds a lot of the blame here.
That’s the first drug Dr. WhiteCoat usually reaches for, and often for the darnedest reasons. And, the feeding of antibiotics to livestock, especially in CAFOs, are no small players in creating resistant microbes that antibiotics can no longer kill.
Recent research shows that allergic dogs and atopic people have fewer species of beneficial organisms on their skin. It’s unclear whether that’s cause or effect, but it’s clearly abnormal.
Interestingly, the bugs who live inside of you and your pet and even your spouse are more likely similar among related family members that they are in those who you cohabit with. That was a surprise to me.
Diversity: A Damned Good Thing
Just as society is richer and more creative and substantive from a wide variety of thoughts and customs and cultures, so it’s the case with the population of microbes in or on the body. We can measure this diversity of species more easily now with the gene analysis methods.
Just to remind you of the good that comes from our healthy gut dwellers alone, they:
- aid digestion and the extraction of energy from consumed food
- are responsible for B vitamins, vitamin K, and the production of amino acids and fatty acids
- nourish the cells they live close to, the lining cells of the gut wall or enterocytes
- help immunity (some say that the gut has MOST of the immune system)
- offer a barrier against pathogens invading
It turns out that diversity is greatly depressed when an animal or human is ill. Both show less species when chronic diarrhea or inflammatory bowel disease is present. Even obesity in people is associated with a lack in species of microbes.
C-Section? Get Flora!
Vaginal birth, the natural delivery of young through the birth canal, is the first place the newborns get seriously inoculated with flora.
They leave the womb sterile but by their first breath, babies are covered with colonies of bacteria that get their immune systems primed, their digestive systems off to a good start, and even help shape their growing brain.
Those babies delivered by Cesarean section are more prone to autoimmune diseases. While not yet studied in the dog, it would make sense that they’d have a similar deficit.
Minimally, you’d want to liberally dose probiotics to these youngsters from a very young age. It would even make sense to rub in some of mom’s lochia, the vaginal discharge that appears after birth for a spell.
Raise Your Kids with Dogs!
Remember the Amish study showing way less allergies in these kids growing up on the farm? Well, similar findings have emerged showing that dog-owning families have way more diverse microbes than those families without a dog in their lives.
Human kids are experiencing higher rates of eczema, for reasons unknown. (Well, I can take an educated guess, seeing what I do in pets. How about the concurrent rising rates of childhood vaccines!).
When kids have the chronic skin eruptions of eczema, they are more prone to other immune based diseases like asthma and food allergies.
We see asthma in cats and food allergies in both dogs and cats. And we’re vaccinating them a lot more than just 30 years ago. Hmmm.
Kids raised with dogs have less eczema, even if they tested allergic to dogs!
Cat-allergic kids actually showed the opposite: their risk of eczema, asthma and food allergies significantly increased, growing up with a cat. Normal, non-allergic kids were no worse from cats being present, however.
So, here’s further evidence that exposure to “germs” early in life is a good thing. Get that boy out of that bubble! Toss that germ killing soap and toothpaste into the trash! Go play in the dirt!
Among the many papers I read for this post, one thing was repeatedly made clear: the flora in and on our bodies and those of our animals is a boon for all of us.
Many researchers said how little we actually know about this young field. For example, how much species interactions among these trillions of microbes affects us and our loved ones.
Still largely unknown.
It all makes me more confident than ever that I dumped antibiotics so many years ago. I’d urge you to think of the potential for microbiome disruption and its consequences with these ever present drugs.
You can say no. Call your homeopathic vet instead.
Who Are You Hanging With?
To close, I just want to put in a plug for being careful who you choose to hang out with. If your eyes are opened to the damage that conventional medicine does to your animals and/or your kids, you will be far happier and more productive if you associate with people who’ve also had paradigm shifts like yours.
You can’t get a good discussion of vaccine damage going with the average person on the street now.
So many have bought into a very slanted view from the pro-Big Pharma media that, instead of being seen as a thoughtful person who’s studied the risk/benefit ratio on vaccines, you’ll be condemned as a selfish anti-vaxxer that’s somehow risking the lives of innocent children!
If someone can’t get enough of your amazingly wondrous Vital Animal at the dog park, but backs away when you tell them how he got this way (raw diet! few or no vaccines! no flea poisons! no heartworm poisons!), you know that person’s not part of your pack.
Don’t waste any more breath. Move on.
To that end, I’ve formed the Vital Animal Pack, which you can join for free, where I envision a healthy and conscious group growing, who’ll have each other’s backs and who can entertain thoughtful discussions of the health challenges of our day. We’re having some great comments come through on the blog, certainly.
Be careful who you are close to, and, as much as you can, surround yourself with those who have already firmly decided the Natural Path is the only reasonable one to take.
And did you just put your hand in your dog’s mouth? C’mere, I’d like to shake your hand!
Tell us in the comments if your “germ phobias” have subsided a bit since being on this path, and who is shaping who you are these days.