Simply having a dog in your house might help protect you against obesity—and not just because of all the walks.

By Charlotte Hilton Andersen

You've probably heard that owning a pet is great for your health-petting your cat helps reduce stress, walking your dog is a great way to get exercise, and feeling their unconditional love can help fight depression. Well, now you can add weight loss to the list of furry friend benefits. Best part? You don't have to do anything extra to claim this health bonus. Simply owning a pet may lower your family's risk of obesity, according to a new study done by the University of Alberta.

What's behind your pet's superpower? Their germs. The researchers studied families with pets (70 percent of which were dogs) and found that babies in those homes showed higher levels of two types of microbes, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, associated with lower risks of allergic disease and obesity.

"The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," Anita Kozyrskyj, Ph.D., a pediatric epidemiologist, explained in a press release. Pets bring in bacteria on their fur and paws, which in turn help shape our immune systems in positive ways.

Keep in mind that this particular study looked at babies, not adults, but previous studies have shown that adults' gut microbiomes can be altered by diet and environment too. Plus, a recent meta-analysis found that several types of bacteria, including Oscillospira, are found in higher amounts in the guts of people who are thinner and who have more lean muscle mass. The analysis also found that when overweight mice were given more of these bacteria, they lost weight. It all comes down to your metabolism. Some types of good bacteria appear to improve the body's ability to process sugars and overall metabolic functioning. Those sneaky bacteria can also influence the types of food you crave, prompting you to binge on sugar or fill your plate with fiber-filled veggies, according to a separate study.

So while science can't say that owning a cute puppy will inoculate you against obesity, it does seem like it might help in some small way. If nothing else, regular walks and adventures to the park will have you up and active. And if you're a parent, you might want to cave in and get your kids a pet.

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