Can having a pet make my children or me sick?
The answer to that question is “yes” and “no.”
There is always the possibility and there are also ways to prevent problems.
The best way to make certain, germs and/or bacteria is not passed around is to practice good hygiene. Cleanliness seems to be the best prevention of common illnesses.
However, one important thing is, to keep in mind is the current state of everyone’s health. People with a weak immune system, people suffering from serious illnesses, people with HIV/AIDS, people with organ transplants, people being treated for cancer and infants and young children are all at a greater risk of picking up a disease from an animal than most other people.
With few exceptions, carelessness in handling a pet along with not washing your hands after cleaning up after a pet, are primary causes of illness connected with pets.
What are some of the possible illnesses that can be associated with animals? The most feared in my mind is rabies.
What is rabies? It is a disease caused by the rabies virus and is transmitted though a bite from an animal that is carrying the virus. Today most domesticated animals are vaccinated for the rabies virus as dictated by most state laws.
However, a bite from an unknown animal, domestic or wild, until it is known that the animal has been vaccinated, has to have the recipient of the bite, treated as if the animal has the virus.
It may take from one to three months for a person to show signs of the virus and by then it is too late for any treatment to work.
It is very important that your pet, even if it is an inside only pet, be inoculated against the rabies virus.
Teaching children to avoid trying to pet strange dogs or cats, unless supervised, along with avoiding the temptation to catch a wild animal, is one of the best lessons you can teach your child.
There are many germs/viruses that can be picked up from dogs other than rabies, most of which come from contact with a dog’s feces. That is why cleanliness seems so important. To clean up after your dog eliminates, use plastic gloves, a pooper scooper or a plastic bag to avoid touching the feces.
A dog can carry many types of germs, bacteria and/or virus and not be ill, but you can pick it up and suffer. Most illness caused by pets usually run the gamut of diarrhea, vomiting, some fever and muscle aches. As with any illness see, your medical provider.
Cats too, can pass on a disease or two to their humans, but in general you are most likely not going to get sick from touching or owning a cat.
Cat scratch fever can come from a scratch or bite, but using normal precautionary measures such as washing the wound and putting an anapestic on it, can generally prevent any illness. Symptoms of cat scratch disease can include infection at the point of injury, swollen lymph glands, some fever, and a loss of appetite.
Another disease associated with cats is Toxoplasmosis, however people are more likely to get it from eating raw meat or gardening.
What is toxoplasmosis? It is a disease caused by a parasite, about 60 million people are infected by this bug and do not know it. You can get it by swallowing cat feces.
Yuk, you say why would anyone do that? Actually just by touching your mouth, eyes, or nose you can transmit it to yourself. The symptoms are flu like. It particularly dangerous for pregnant women as it can be transmitted to the fetus.
When cleaning the litter box always use caution and refrain from handling any feces. Keep pets away from the litter box, along with children. For some odd reason dogs seem to enjoy looking for treats in the litter box.
What other diseases can be transmitted to humans by pets?
Salmonellosis, which is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria Salmonella. Most of the time people get it from infected chicken, eggs or other contaminated food. The symptoms can cause severe diarrhea, fever and stomach pain.
The virus salmonellosis can also be passed on to humans by handling such pets as reptiles (lizards, snakes and turtles,) baby chicks, ducklings and occasionally a cat or dog.
Again it comes from touching the feces of the animals and not washing your hands after doing so. Some animals can have it on their bodies, as they have picked it up from the ground.
Water can also be a point of contamination, where animals have access to it and due to ground run offs, feces and urine can flow into the water, humans need to be careful.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals.
How can you get it?
By exposure to many things, as the bacteria is secreted through the urine of infected animals. It can be found in water, (ponds and streams) food, or soil containing urine from the infected animals. Swallowing the water (swimming in a pond or stream,) contaminated food or by hands that have been in contact with a source and you have rubbed your eyes, nose or mouth or through a cut on your skin.
The symptoms include high fever, severe headache, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea or a rash. Seek medical treatment as soon as possible especially, if you have been swimming in the “old swimming hole.”
Leptospirosis is found worldwide, but mainly in temperate and tropical climates. Pets can acquire it from drinking out of a contaminated birdbath.
Ticks carry diseases and ticks bite dogs, so the rule here is, when removing ticks from your pet be extremely careful. Your chances of getting either Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted fever are slim and none, unless you are tramping around in areas of the country where those ticks are prevalent and are not wearing protective clothing.
Fleas can cause tapeworm in household pets. The animals get it by swallowing a flea that has been infected.
Can you get tapeworm, certainly, but only if you swallow and infected flea. Keeping your pet and household flea free will prevent either of you from becoming infected. Last, but not least in this list of things, is Ringworm, this is a skin and scalp disease that can be caught not only from animals, but people, too.
How can you get ringworm?
Ringworm is a contagious fungus that can be passed on from person to person, pet to person or pet to pet.
It has nothing to do with worms, but is a fungus that lives in humans, pets and rarely in the soil. Ringworm appears as, a flat round patch on the skin and then conforms to a ring like patch. It can be treated by a fungus killing medicine usually taken orally in tablet form or by an ointment applied to the affected area.
The important thing here is not to share personal items with an infected person, do not touch infected areas, keep children away from infected pets, and to thoroughly wash all items handled by the infected pet or person.
Now that I have made you wonder, should I ever get a pet, the answer is of course.
Plain old common sense hygiene is the answer to most pet to people diseases. I have never heard of a person dying because of a disease caught from a cat or dog. With the possibly exception of someone being bitten by a rabid animal and not seeking treatment.
Keeping play areas for children free from being your pet’s bathroom area and keeping feces cleaned up is the safest thing you can do.
Teach your children to wash their hands frequently after playing with their pet and you are on your way to a long and happy life