What to Be Aware Of for You and Your Pet’s Health
We love our pets. We adore them. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t keep them, or spend hundreds of dollars on them. But we do. We let them sit on our laps when they’re 80 pounds. We let them lick our faces when we get too close. Some of us even let them sleep in our beds. And while these furry friends want to give us nothing but love, they may be giving us more than they, and we, realize. Canines, felines, birds, reptiles, and small animals can all be carriers of bacteria and parasites that can cause their human owners serious harm, while the critters themselves remain unaffected.
The fact that dogs and cats are the most common household pets in the United States probably comes as no surprise, but the hard numbers might. The American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey estimates approximately 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog, 60% of which own two, and 12% own three or more – which amounts to approximately 78.2 million dogs owned in the United States. For cats, the numbers are even higher: approximately 86.4 million owned cats, with 33% of U.S. households owning one, and 52% of them owning two or more. Keep in mind these numbers are not even factoring in the thousands of strays and sheltered animals. Chances are, if you don’t have a pet of your own, a friend or family member does.cdc
Both dogs and cats can carry various bacteria and parasites that can cause serious harm to humans. Canine saliva and feces may contain bacteria such as campylobacter, which causes diarrhea in humans, and leptospira, which causes leptospirosis in both humans and other animal. A few other dangers include tapeworm, ringworm, roundworm, and rabies, a deadly viral disease. Felines, too, have the potential to cause just as many illnesses as their canine foes. Cats can transmit many of the same diseases, as well as others such as cat scratch fever and toxoplasmosis.
Canines and cats are not the only culprits, though. According to the Center for Disease Control, certain species of birds can carry salmonella, chlamydia psittaci, which causes the disease psittacosis. This does not apply just to pet birds, though. You can contract the disease from wild birds and bird droppings, as well. Always avoid bird droppings, and even stray feathers; if the feather came from anywhere near the bird’s behind, there could be residual fecal matter and bacteria on the feather.
Like birds, reptiles can carry salmonella. While it does not affect reptiles, they are still very capable of spreading the disease. According to the CDC, 3% of U.S. households own at least one reptile, and “an estimated 70,000 people get salmonellosis from contact with reptiles in the United States each year.” Pet stores and veterinarians recommend that pregnant women, children under five, and those with weak immune systems should avoid all contact with reptiles. Fish, small animals, and wildlife are carriers of salmonella and other diseases, and should be treated with standard health precautions: wash your hands, and avoid contact with face, eyes, and mouth.
Still, pet ownership can have its benefits, as well. If you’re already a pet owner, I’m sure you need no convincing. What’s more rewarding than having a furry friend greet you when you come home from your busy day at the office? Talk about unconditional love. But for those of you who don’t understand the pet-owner bond, there are certain health benefits you can’t deny. Veterinarians and doctors agree that pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and depression, as well as increase exercise, outdoor activities, and socializing.
More than what our pets can carry, there’s also what they can bring inside. Dogs and outdoor cats are a huge risk for transferring external contaminants. Cats often surprise their owners with the gift of a dead mouse or bird, while dogs require attention and exercise, with daily walks and outdoor activities. You may be able to take off your shoes and wash your hands, but your darling Dachshund can not. And, believe it or not, the mud and garbage they were just digging through does not stay outside. When Ol’ Yeller comes through that doggy door, he’s bringing the trash in with him. For both your health and that of your fuzzy friend’s, there are simple steps you can take to keep the contagions outside.
- Use a damp towel, wet it with warm water, and massage gently in between and around the paws to remove any excess dirt or mud. If you use a specific towel, be sure to clean it; using a dirty towel would defeat the purpose.
- Use the end of a toothbrush and gently remove pieces of gravel or mulch from between their paws.
- Use a wipe, similar to what we use on our own hands. Make sure the label says it’s safe for use on pets.
- Use booties. If your pet allows this, try it out. Just make sure to treat the booties like a pair of socks and clean them often.
While many of these diseases are rare, it is still possible to contract them from our beloved pets. Pregnant women, children, and those with weakened immune systems need to apply extra caution when it comes to interacting with animals. After handling a pet or animal, avoid contact with saliva and feces – never let a pet lick a human wound. Keep your hands away from your face, eyes, and mouth, and always wash your hands. The chances may be slim, but it’s always better to be safe than it is to be sorry.