Canadian scientists have published research that adds to the belief that early childhood exposure to pets and animals may reduce the risks of allergies and obesity.

Children exposed to dogs, cats, and other furry pets in early life — before birth and up to 3 months after — experienced significant increases in two beneficial gut bacteria: Ruminococcus and Oscillospira.

Around 46% of infants were exposed to household pets before and after birth, the team reports. Dogs accounted for around 70% of household pets.

Fecal samples were collected from each infant around the age of 3 months and analyzed to determine the abundance of specific gut bacteria.

The researchers found that infants who were exposed to furry animals before and after birth demonstrated a twofold increase in the abundance of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira in their guts, compared with infants not exposed to household pets.