Sharing your home, your heart and sometimes your bed with a furry companion can be a source of great companionship and has been shown to have a positive benefit on both emotional and physical health. That said, there are some medical conditions that can be passed to humans from dogs and other animals and it’s important to take the necessary precautions to keep yourself and all the members of your household, as well as your pets, safe and well.
Both dogs and cats can transmit diseases to their owners, either directly through bites, scratches and licks or indirectly by bringing pests such as ticks and fleas your home. Ultimately, you’re far more likely to get sick from contact with another person than from your pet, but good basic hygiene habits such as washing your hands after handling or cleaning up after your pets can dramatically reduce the chance of you contracting anything. Read on for a few more tips about how to keep both yourself and your pet in tip top condition.
Although there is plenty of research which suggests that owning pets comes with a number of benefits, such as lowered blood pressure and less chance of suffering from a heart attack, this isn’t necessarily the case when a pet is unwell.
With around nine out of ten pet owners thinking of their pet as a member of their family, it is no surprise to learn that when people look after pets that are unwell, they suffer from higher rates of anxiety and depression than the rest of the population. If your pet becomes unwell and requires care, remember to take regular breaks and seek the support of friends and family, the same way you would if you were looking after a sick relative.
Dodge those doggy kisses
The commonly held belief that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than that of a human turns out to be something of myth. According to the American Kennel Club, a dog’s mouth contains around 600 different types of bacteria, a number that is similar to the 615 or so types of bacteria in the average human mouth.
Most of these bacteria are specific to one or other species and therefore cannot be transferred from pet to owner or vice versa. For example, the virus that causes the common cold in humans has no effect on other animals, so you can’t catch the flu from or give it to your dog. Despite this, there are some exceptions that mean you shouldn’t let your dog get its saliva get into your mouth, or into an open wound anywhere on your body.
Although you may love it when you dog shows you how much it loves you by licking your face, if your dog does so after giving its tail end a good clean, you run the risk of accidentally ingesting bacteria such as campylobacter or salmonella. Around 200,000 Americans develop nasty stomach flu each year in this way. Potentially harmful bugs can also end up on the noses of dogs that have been sniffing the behinds of other pets or rummaging through the contents of kitty litter – common in households where both cats and dogs are present.
The greatest danger is to those members of the household whose immune systems are not functioning at their full capacity, such as the very elderly, the very young or anyone suffering from an immune deficiency disorder.
Fleas and ticks that attach themselves to your pets may end up laying eggs inside your home. Although they prefer to bite dogs or cats, they can and will also bite humans, causing irritations and potentially passing on conditions such as Lyme disease.
The best way to protect yourself and your family from the kind of infections that can be passed on by ticks or fleas is to do everything you can to prevent such parasites from latching on to your pet in the first place.
Fleas begin their lives as eggs and go through the larvae and then pupae stage before emerging as adults. If you find fleas on your pet, around 95 per cent of them will be in the pre-adult stage meaning it’s essential you use a treatment such as Pet-Lock which not only kills adults but also prevents other flea stages from developing.
Even if you are using a preventative product, you should still check your pet for the presence of ticks and fleas on a regular basis. If you discover an infestation, remember to treat your entire home and not just your pet as eggs or larvae may be present and may hatch much later and cause a brand-new infestation that erupts weeks, or even months later.
Dogs that groom themselves while suffering from flea infestation often end up ingesting some of the parasites in the process. If the fleas are carrying infections of their own, this can lead to conditions such as dog tapeworm. Severe cases can cause your pet to lose weight or have mild diarrhea but both dogs and people can be affected by tapeworm and show no symptoms.
Dog hookworms live in soil or sand and can worm their way into your pet as they walk around contaminated environments. Young puppies are the most vulnerable and might have dark, bloody stools. In severe cases, it can be fatal. Hookworms can also infect humans where they may appear as a wriggly red line under the skin. No treatment is usually necessary as the worms will die after a few weeks.
Roundworm affects both dogs and people who swallow their eggs that are in the environment. Infected puppies are often underdeveloped and may be pot-bellied. Roundworm can also affect children and have been known to cause blindness as well as damage the central nervous system, the liver or the lung.
In the case of feline companions, studies show that at some point in their lives, four out of ten cats carry the bacteria for a condition known as cat scratch disease. Although such a cat will have no symptoms as a result of the condition, this is not the case with humans who get scratched by an infected animal.
You may get a blister or bump at the scratch site, suffer from headaches, fatigue and a low-grade fever. You may also suffer from loss of appetite and a sore throat. Serious cases may require antibiotics, but most people will get better without any treatment.