This week, a piece in the Daily Mail warned pet owners to be careful as their beloved companions could be carrying a whole host of diseases. With the headline “Beware of the dog… he may give you salmonella” the article refers to research claiming that pet-borne infections pose a risk to vulnerable people. The piece also reminds us of a case last year where four people contracted forms of TB from their cats.
Any pet owner would be forgiven for regarding this headline with horror. The idea that your precious pet could give you any number of contagious diseases is, admittedly, somewhat worrisome. However, you needn’t start patting your puppy with gloves on just yet.
Yes, pets can carry a variety of bacteria, parasites and infectious diseases. But so, too, can human beings. Just as you wouldn’t usually worry about shaking a stranger’s hand you don’t need to start disinfecting your cat.
The review cited by the article in the Daily Mail specifically says that infections from pets are a threat to vulnerable people such as new-borns, children with leukaemia, cancer patients and those with a weakened immune system. For these people it makes sense to take extra precautions to stay safe and prevent contamination from all sources not just pets.
Infectious diseases that are transmittable from pet to human aren’t usually airborne, so proximity to a pet isn’t a concern in and of itself. Diseases are generally passed on via saliva, bites, scratches or contact with faeces. It’s safe to say that most owners, vulnerable or not, avoid these as a matter of course. Perhaps it might be wise to discourage your pets from licking your face, but largely avoidance of germs seems to be common sense
By extension it would seem that healthy people are at little risk of contracting diseases from their pets. A cat scratch or a bit of dog slobber are par for the course and most owners will just shrug it off without consequence. It is advisable to practice good cleanliness by washing your hands if you get licked and treating wounds with a disinfecting spray or ointment. If you are severely scratched or bitten then you should seek medical attention.
There are, of course, a number of things that you can do as an owner to reduce the risk of contracting an illness:
- Maintain good basic hygiene by washing your hands after handling pets.
- Keep pets away from food preparation areas to prevent accidental ingestion of saliva.
- Keep your pet’s vaccinations and anti-parasite treatments up to date. If they haven’t got an illness they can’t give it to you.
- Don’t share kitchenware with your pet i.e. don’t let them lick your plates or cutlery.
- Use gloves when cleaning out aquariums, vivariums or any pet housing or equipment. Make sure these are cleaned regularly using pet-safe disinfectant.
- Consider carefully the possible consequences of keeping pets if you or a member of your household is particularly vulnerable to infection.
- Train your pet and socialise them well to lessen the likelihood of them biting or scratching others or yourself.
- Discourage licking and make sure to wash any licked areas with antibacterial soap.
- Carry a convenient hand sanitiser for use as necessary to disinfect your skin when appropriate.
- Pooper scoop your garden regularly using appropriate equipment to prevent contact with faeces. Wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
- Empty and clean out litter trays on a regular basis to minimise the risk of infection. Disinfect the tray thoroughly with appropriate cleaning products.
Just as we wouldn’t leave an open wound untreated, it pays to be sensible when it comes to all aspects of pet keeping. If you are concerned about your pet’s health, or your own, then get in touch with your doctor or veterinarian as appropriate. They will be able to advise you of the risk factor involved in the ownership of any species.
As is so often the case, prevention is better than cure. Be safe, be sensible and you should find that you and your pet enjoy long and healthy lives together.