Multiple studies have demonstrated that early-life exposure to pets or siblings affords protection against allergic disease; these associations are commonly attributed to the “hygiene hypothesis”. Recently, low diversity of the infant gut microbiota has also been linked to allergic disease. In this study, we characterize the infant gut microbiota in relation to pets and siblings.
The study population comprised a small sub-sample of 24 healthy, full term infants from the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) birth cohort. Mothers reported on household pets and siblings. Fecal samples were collected at 4 months of age, and microbiota composition was characterized by high-throughput signature gene sequencing.
Microbiota richness and diversity tended to be increased in infants living with pets, whereas these measures were decreased in infants with older siblings. Infants living with pets exhibited under-representation of Bifidobacteriaceae and over-representation of Peptostreptococcaceae; infants with older siblings exhibited under-representation of Peptostreptococcaceae.
This study provides new evidence that exposure to pets and siblings may influence the early development of the gut microbiota, with potential implications for allergic disease. These two traditionally protective “hygiene hypothesis” factors appear to differentially impact gut microbiota composition and diversity, calling into question the clinical significance of these measures. Further research is required to confirm and expand these findings.