One of my favorite people sent me an article from aolnews.com, titled "Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie in Your Bed Can Kill You" . The article quotes the chief veterinarian from the California Department of Health as well as a veterinary professor at UC-Davis. They are both experts on zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people.
The article is factual and well-written, but seems maybe a little distorted in terms of the fears that it may raise in people about their relationships with their pets. It is true that there is a growing concern among DVMs about zoonotic diseases, and at my practice it is policy for the doctors to discuss with pet owners ways to reduce the risks of zoonotic infections. I will describe for you my recommendations for you to enjoy a cuddle-y relationship with your pets without being afraid of catching something.
Be aware that the most common zoonotic pathogens (at least in the Midwest) are intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, and giardia are the ones we see). These parasites produce eggs which are passed out in the pet's feces. The eggs then get in the soil and are picked up by people if they get some of the "contaminated" dirt on their fingers, then put their fingers in their mouth. To reduce your risk: 1.Pick up your pets' feces daily to reduce the risk of eggs getting in the soil 2.Practice good hygiene - no fingers in mouths, wash hands before eating 3.Keep your pets on heartworm/parasite control products every month. I recommend Sentinel for dogs and Revolution for cats 4.All new pets should have a fecal float and giardia test done before being brought home 5.All pets should have fecal floats +/- giardia tests done at least once a year 6.Puppies and kittens should be dewormed multiple times before they reach 16 weeks of age.
Dogs who live near rural areas where there are raccoons, opossums, deer, livestock, or even rodents; or who are at risk for drinking or swimming in any standing water, should be vaccinated for leptospirosis. All pets should be vaccinated for Rabies.
Do not let your pet lick your face or any open sores on you. Control potential flea infestations with monthly flea-control products (again, I recommend Sentinel and Revolution). Pregnant women should not clean litter boxes, and litter boxes should be scooped out daily.
Special precautions should be taken by immune-compromised people living with pets. This would include HIV-positive individuals, people on chemotherapy, people receiving dialysis treatments, the very old and infirmed, and infants. These special precautions should be discussed with the veterinarian and also the attending physician. Not to "toot my own horn," but I find that in the majority of situations, the veterinarian is more knowledgeable than the physician regarding zoonoses.
This sounds like a long list of precautions, but most of them are simple and inexpensive. I know how much I enjoy snuggling up to my dogs and cats, and I do so with confidence knowing my risk of "catching something" is virtually nil.
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