Healthy Pets, Healthy Family: Preventing Zoonotic Disease
Dogs, cats, birds, pocket pets, reptiles, and fish provide our families and us with pleasant company, hours of entertainment, and loyal friendship. With proper care and informed ownership, animal companions make a great addition to just about any household. But did you know that pets can also potentially affect the health of you and yours, and vice versa? The veterinarians of Burloak Animal Hospital understand how pet health and home health are related, and we want to provide you with the knowledge necessary to keep a happy and healthy household for both your family and your pets.
Perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to human—animal health is that of zoonotic disease. A zoonotic disease (or "zoonosis") is any infection capable of being transmitted from animals to humans. Any type of pet can carry and spread this kind of illness, and the best way to keep zoonotic diseases out of your home is to know where they come from and how to prevent them.
Who’s at Risk?
Zoonotic infections are most easily transmitted to humans with compromised immune systems, including:
- Anyone with an immune system disorder
- Family members undergoing chemotherapy or other immunosuppressive therapies
- Children—Kids love pets, and we all know they tend to put things in their mouths! The developing immune systems of young children are not always capable of fending off disease transmitted from a pet.
It is recommended that any household with family members in these categories take extra care to prevent zoonoses in the home. All pets, especially those spending time outside, need to get their regular wellness exams and vaccinations to ensure that not only they, but also your human family members, stay healthy and happy.
Common Zoonotic Diseases and How to Prevent Them
Chances are you already know of some common zoonotic infections, such as malaria and Lyme disease. Malaria is not a threat in our area, and Lyme disease is a seasonal concern best prevented with regular vaccinations for your pet. The most common zoonotic diseases and how to prevent them are:
- Hookworms and roundworms—Caused by a parasite in the gastrointestinal system, these diseases are most often spread by animal droppings. Children are especially at risk for this disease, and the best means of keeping it at bay is by making sure your pet’s worm and parasite treatments are up to date to prevent it from spreading.
- Leptospirosis—Common to wildlife, leptospirosis is most often spread when an infected animal contaminates standing water with urine. Outdoor pets can easily bring the infection indoors when drinking from a puddle or pond, and their best defense is up-to-date vaccination.
- Psittacosis or chlamydia—A bacterial disease spread by dust from bird droppings, this is also referred to as "parrot fever" or ornithosis. This is a big concern here at Burloak since we see so many birds! Keeping your bird’s cage regularly cleaned and prioritizing annual wellness checks are the ideal preventive measures.
- Rabies—A serious viral infection spread through saliva, rabies is often associated with wildlife. Your pet’s only protection against rabies is vaccination, so if you have an outdoor pet this will be one of the first and most important vaccinations he or she receives. Keep rabies vaccinations updated and your pet will stay safe and sound.
- Ringworm—Despite its name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It is a fungal skin infection that causes irritation in animals and humans. Its development and spread from animals to humans is best prevented by regular pet grooming and timely checkups with your veterinarian.
- Salmonella—This bacteria is extremely common in reptiles and is spread through fecal matter. The best way to prevent salmonella from spreading to humans is to keep your reptile’s habitat clean and maintain proper husbandry practices for the species. Also be sure to minimize stress on your scaly friend, and never kiss or shared food with them—a gift of dark, leafy greens (not lettuce) and a gentle pet is a great way to show affection for your reptile; just make sure you wash your hands after!
Zoonotic Disease Prevention
Preventing a specific zoonotic disease requires making sure conditions where the infection thrives are never created. Since there are a number of common zoonotic diseases out there, it’s best to remember a few general rules that will help keep all animal—human diseases out of your home:
- Talk to your veterinarian and stick to your pet’s regular wellness exam schedule.
- Make sure all vaccinations are up to date—especially for outdoor pets!
- Establish a regular pet grooming schedule—keep them clean!
- Keep your pet’s environment, whether that’s a doggy bed, cat condo, cage, tank, or terrarium, clean at all times and make sure your pet’s food and water is always fresh—this is especially important for birds, reptiles, and pocket pets confined to a single area or habitat.
- Maintain good hygiene for yourself and your family, especially the little ones. Pets are fun to play with, but make sure kids and adults alike are washing their hands after playtime.
- Talk to children about what constitutes acceptable behaviour when interacting with household pets, and educate them on responsible care for family animals.
Zoonotic diseases can sound scary, but preventing them is incredibly simple and intuitive. Just follow the easy rules above, keep your family educated, and talk to your veterinarian at Burloak Animal Hospital on a regular basis to keep your household healthy.
For more information, please contact us.