A new study by researchers at Hopkins University suggests that exposure to dogs from an early age reduces the risk of schizophrenia. Robert Yolken, a professor at Hopkins University, said: “Severe mental illness is associated with changes in the immune system, which in turn are related to people’s early environments, where pets are in close contact with children. “
The researchers surveyed 1,371 people between the ages of 18 and 65, 396 of whom were schizophrenics, 381 people with bipolar disorder and 594 with controls.
It found that people who came into frequent contact with dogs before the age of 13 had a 24 percent lower risk of schizophrenia than those who did not have contact with dogs at an early age.
Previous studies have shown that children’s exposure to cats and dogs can affect their immune systems.
Professor Robert Yolken says it may be something in the dog’s microbiome that is passed on to humans, boosting the immune system and resisting or reducing the genetic predisposition to schizophrenia.
The researchers note that in the study, no link has been found in cat ownership to develop schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.