Maureen Pratt

As cooler weather and holiday celebrations bring us indoors, we will be in close quarters with family and friends, but also with the furrier or, perhaps scalier, household members. Many families include their pets in parties and other gatherings, and if these playful, lovable animals are well-behaved, the occasions can be festive.

But a recent news article about cat-transmitted illness has led me to take a closer look at the pets in our lives and the possible health hazards.

Allergies are probably the first thing that comes to mind when talking about pets and human health issues. These can range from the relatively mild random sneeze or cough to asthma attacks, hives and other symptoms that could become severe and require emergency care.

Allergies are not diseases transmitted by pets, but there are other health ailments that can be “zoonotic,” that is, passed from animals to humans. Rabies is, of course, one of the most serious zoonotic diseases, and also one of the most well-known.

But others include salmonella (more likely to be carried by birds and some reptiles and rodents); organisms that cause toxoplasmosis, a disease potentially harmful to pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems; dog roundworms; scabies, a fungal infection or the skin; and cat or dog ringworm.

A report from the American Veterinary Medical Association called “Pets and Zoonotic Diseases (FAQ)” offers information about these potential health hazards and also provides some guidance about how to avoid catching them.

Healthy animals are, according to the veterinary association, less likely to contract or carry potentially dangerous zoonotic diseases. Making sure that your pets are up to date on their veterinary examinations and vaccinations is important, as is limiting the exposure of your pets to other potentially infected animals (curtailing your cat’s nocturnal forays into the woods, for example, where your cat might encounter an infected feline or other feral animal).

Another key to preventing infection is to exercise proper hygiene when taking care of Fido or Fluffy. The veterinary association recommends: “Wear disposable gloves … when cleaning the cat’s litter box and use a scooper or something to cover your hand when picking up after your dog.” Washing your hands after these tasks and after handling your pet or its food or bedding is an important step to infection prevention.

As for those slobbering kisses from Rover? Tempting as it might be, the association says, “Don’t let your pets lick you in the mouth, and teach children not to put their mouths on animals or put any part of the animal’s body in their mouth.”

Teaching children how to handle a pet carefully and healthfully is part of the lesson of being responsible toward another of God’s creatures and can promote not only health but also respect. Choosing age-appropriate pets and supervising children when they play with them are also two important aspects of bringing up children to treat animals properly and enjoy them.

Finally, the association advises: “Keep your family healthy. If the people in the family are healthy, they will be less likely to be infected, even if the pet becomes infected, because their immune systems are healthy.”

Pets can be a wonderful addition to a household, making merry moments and memories for each family member. Taking the extra steps to keep them healthy has benefits for them but also for you — and “healthier” adds up to “happier” for everyone.


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