Fenway the malamute spends some time with potential owner Tim Evanston earlier this year at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley.
Fenway the malamute spends some time with potential owner Tim Evanston earlier this year at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera file photo)

Dog owners share more bacteria in common with their pets than they do their own children, according to a new study led by the University of Colorado.

Research directed by CU associate professor Rob Knight and doctoral student Se Jin Song examined the types and transfer modes of microbes from the guts, tongues, foreheads and palms - or paws - of members of 60 American families, including dogs.

Identifying how such bacterial communities can be affected by environmental exposure could help scientists better understand how they can be manipulated to prevent or treat disease, they report.

Knight and his team sampled 159 people and 36 dogs, according to a news release. Seventeen of the 60 families had children at home ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years, 17 families had one or more dogs and no children, eight families had both children and dogs and 18 families had neither children nor dogs.

Each family consisted of at least one couple between the ages of 26 and 87.

"One of the biggest surprises was that we could detect such a strong connection between their owners and pets," said Knight, also a faculty member at CU's BioFrontiers Institute and an Early Career Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scientist. "In fact, the microbial connection seems to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and their children."

A paper on the subject was published today in the new online science and biomedical journal, eLIFE, a joint initiative of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust Fund.