10 Simple Ways to Avoid Catching Diseases From Your Pet

Dog licking owner's face
Kisses from your dog could make you ill. Frank Gaglione/Getty Images

The idea that your pet may pose a danger to your health is tough to accept, but researchers from Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and elsewhere have issued a report warning seniors about diseases they might catch from their dog, cat, bird or reptile.

Published in 2015 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the review cites adults over the age of 65 - along with young children, patients with lower immunity and pregnant women - as those at highest risk of a variety of so-called zoonotic infections.

 These illnesses are transmitted from animals to humans and include Campylobacter, Salmonellafungal or parasitic infections such as hookworm and roundworm, and viruses.  In addition, fleas and ticks carried by pets can increase the risk of insect-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.

Lead author Jason Stull writes that around the world a majority of households own pets, while more than half of adults (64%) surveyed in his 2013 study published in BMC Public Health had never been notified of the health risks of living with animals.

Fortunately, there are simple steps recommended by the authors to keep yourself safe around your furry, scaled or feathered family member:

1.   Wash hands after contact with pet: After handling your pet, their blankets or cage, wash your hands thoroughly.

2.   Avoid contact with pet feces: This is an obvious one; wear gloves and use a plastic bag to clean up after your dog or while emptying the cat's litter box

3.   Prompt cleanup after a bite or scratch:  Wash the area thoroughly

4.   Avoid certain pet treats:  Stay away from those derived from animals, such as pig's ears

5.   Use gloves when cleaning aquariums: Take care to dispose of water away from areas used to prepare food, such as the kitchen sink

6.   Avoid rodents, reptiles, amphibians: The researchers also advise against letting these pets roam through living areas, especially where food is prepared

7.   Avoid animals with diarrhea

8.   Keep bird and rodent cages clean:  Daily bird cage cleaning and frequent rodent cage cleaning should be done using disposable gloves and if possible, a face mask 

9.   Launder pet bedding frequently and disinfect cages and eating areas 

10.  Take your pet to a veterinarian at the first sign of illness:  In addition, follow guidelines to prevent and treat parasitic infections in your pet

Use a solution of one part bleach to 32 parts water as an effective disinfectant for cleaning and to destroy pathogens.

Bottom line:  The researchers recommend that health-care providers and veterinarians routinely discuss pet contact and appropriate hygiene with their older patients. Since seniors and other high-risk groups may get more sick, have symptoms for longer periods of time, with more complications compared with others, a bit of effort into simple prevention is well-spent.

Sources:

Jason W Stull, Andrew S Peregrine, Jan M Sargeant and J Scott Weese. "Household knowledge, attitudes and practices related to pet contact and associated zoonoses in Ontario, Canada." BMC Public Health 2012, 12:553
http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2458/12/553

Jason W. Stull, Jason Brophy, and J.S. Weese. "Reducing the Risk of Pet-Associated Zoonotic Infections." CMAJ cmaj.141020; published ahead of print April 20, 2015

Continue Reading