Most people know that wild animals can give rabies to people, but what they may not realize is that pets like cats, dogs and birds can pass diseases to people. That may sound scary, but prevention isn’t all that hard. Here’s what to know about keeping pets and people safe from each other.
First, don’t panic, says AAHA member Martha Gearhart, DVM, owner of Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital, Pleasant Valley, N.Y. “If [you] practice good hygiene and common sense, the risk is none!” Some zoonotic diseases are spread by bites or scratches, but prompt cleaning should take care of any problems from those incidents.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta agree: “Although animals can carry germs… you are more likely to get some of these germs from contaminated food or water than from your pet or another animal.”
What to Watch For
According to Gearhart, “the biggest concerns are roundworms migrating to children, toxoplasmosis infecting a fetus in the womb, and bartonellosis or cat-scratch fever, which we now know is actually transmitted by fleas.” Ringworm is also fairly common.
To Sleep or Not to Sleep… with Pets?
Is it dangerous to let your dogs or cats snuggle up and sleep in your bed? Maybe, but maybe not. Wellness care from your veterinarian and common sense make the difference. Here’s a video from AAHA with a reassuring reality check on recent research on this topic:
And here’s a link to that research:
Some people are more vulnerable than others, according to J. Scott Weese, DVM, associate professor of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, in Canada. “Children under age 5, elderly people, pregnant women, anyone with compromised immune systems (including people who have had organ transplants).” If that means anyone in your household, tell your doctors about any pets. “Pets are part of the family microbiologically, as well as every other way,” he said. Young animals pose the greatest risk, because they are “far more likely to be infected with parasites or other diseases,” said Gearhart.
The issue is urgent for people with compromised immune systems. Gearhart said research found that “adult dogs and cats were deemed safe” for AIDS patients. “Birds and reptiles were not recommended; puppies and kittens were not recommended.”
What to Do When
The good news is that “most of these diseases are completely preventable and avoidable,” said Gearhart. “If you vaccinate your dog against rabies and other diseases common in your region, you aren’t likely to have to worry about them.” Keeping cats flea-free will help to prevent them from getting bartonellosis. Don’t let the dog lick the kids’ faces. Everyone should wash their hands regularly.
Gearhart urged pet owners to train all family members to wash hands often and avoid hand-to-eye or hand-to-mouth contact after touching animals, dirty cages, bedding and accessories. Cover children’s sandboxes so neighborhood cats don’t use them for litter boxes and clean up dog waste in the backyard. “These safeguards keep pets safe and healthy, as well as people,” she said.
Because it’s hard to keep young children–and even older children and adults–from hands-on contact with pets, reinforcing good hygiene is vital. “Make sure both pets and people are trained properly to reduce bites and scratches, do flea prevention, and have regular veterinarian contact,” said Weese.
And watch out for wild animals, warns the CDC: “You should never adopt wild animals as pets or bring them home. Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if the animal appears to be friendly.”
Types of Diseases
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these risks should be understood by anyone with animals in the home or on the farm. The most common causes are being bitten or scratched by infected animals, including fleas and other vermin, or handling animal waste.
By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Contributing Writer
Courtesy of Healthy Pet.
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