Healthy Looking Furry Pets Carry Deadly Diseases
It is estimated Americans own 78-M dogs and 85-M cats, according to the American Pet Product Association, but the downside of for pet lovers is that each and every year tens of thousands of Americans get sick from diseases spread by their household animals.
These are called Zoonotic diseases and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 6 of 10 known infectious diseases and 3 of 4 emerging diseases in people are spread by animals.
So, while animals can provide incredible psychological and physical benefits to humans, it is important to note that even a healthy looking animal can carry harmful germs that can cause illness and death.
“While anyone can become sick from pet related infections, if you or someone you live with has a compromised immune system, you should talk with your doctor before getting a family pet,’ Dr. Jessica Stull, MD., an internist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Texas.
Below is a list of the Top 10 diseases spread by domestic animals, as follows:
- Salmonella. This type of bacteria lives in the gastrointestinal tract. We normally associate salmonella with the ingestion of poultry, eggs and meat products but animals can also ingest the bacteria and pass it along to us through their feces and onto their fur. “I am very wary of the current trend of people feeding their pets a raw diet,” Dr. Calico Schmidt, DVM, clinical instructor of veterinary medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine sayd. “Cook food thoroughly even for your pets and always wash your hands well after handling their food or after coming into contact with their feces. Good old soap and water is the best way to destroy germs.” Salmonella can also be transmitted from pet reptiles and can cause severe blood diarrhea and kidney failure in humans.
- Worms. Ringworm is a highly contagious disease you can get simply by grooming your pet. It’s a very common fungal infection and manifests as a characteristic, reddish spot that may have a darker edge along the center. Ringworm usually responds well to topical treatments. Tapeworms, usually spread by fleas in dogs and cats, can live as parasites in the human gastrointestinal tract causing infections, especially in children. Make sure that your pet is on preventive flea medication and wash hands thoroughly.
- Cat Scratch Fever. According to the CDC, about 40% of cats carry the bacteria that cause this infection at some point in their lives. Humans can contract it through a playful bite, scratch or licking an open would. “I encourage people to use toys, not their body parts, to play with their cats, and to keep their nails trimmed,” says Dr. Schmidt.
- Lyme Disease. This tick-borne illness can cause severe reactions in humans such as rash, fever, nerve and joint damage and even heart problems, says Dr. Stull. Your pets can pick up ticks during outdoor walks and bring them into the home and onto you, warns Dr. Schmidt. Always check your pet for ticks before entering the home and if you find a tick, flush it several times down the toilet. Keep your dog on tick prevention medication. If you do notice a bulls-eye rash on your skin, have a fever or muscle aches, seek medical care immediately.
- Rabies. This virus affects the central nervous system and can be deadly to humans. It is usually transmitted through exposure to saliva from an animal bite. Make sure that your pets have all appropriate and recommended vaccines.
- Toxoplasmosis. “I cannot tell you have many times my clients are saddened when they become pregnant and their doctors advise them to give up their cats,” says Dr. Schmidt. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that is common in pets — especially cats — that can shed the organism in its feces. The disease can cause flu-like symptoms but it may have larger complications if a woman gets infected while pregnant. Clean cat litter daily using gloves, says Schmidt, and wear gloves while gardening to avoid contact with outdoor animal’s feces. Again, proper and thorough hand washing is essential, she says
- Leptospirosis. This is another potentially deadly bacterial organism found in the urine in dogs and other animals, especially rodents. When your pet sniffs the infected urine, it can harbor the organism and potentially pass it along to you through its own urine. People can also develop the disease by swimming or wading in infected water, making it a health hazard especially to farm workers and animal caretakers. Without treatment, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure and even death. Avoid water areas that may be contaminated with animal urine and ask your vet if a vaccine is warranted in your area.
- Psittacosis. The most common zoonotic disease humans can get from pet birds, especially parrots, says Dr. Kurt Sladky DVM, clinical professor of Zoological Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Health. “It can be fatal in birds and can cause recurrent upper respiratory symptoms in humans,” he says. Humans become infected by inhaling the organism in dried feces. “It can be treated with an antibiotic such as Doxyclycline but any sick bird should be taken directly to a qualified vet with advanced training in avian medicine.”
- Avian tuberculosis.This zoonotic disease can also by transmitted by feces and cause serious complications in humans such as pulmonary tuberculosis. We recommend euthanasia for birds who have positive clinical signs because of its potentially serious affect on humans who are immune compromised.
- Mycobacteriosis.This is is the most common and significant Zoonotic disease that can be transmitted by pet fish, says Dr. Sladky. “Many fish carry the organisms without appearing to be sick but when you place your hand into the aquarium the bacteria can invade through any cut or opening in the skin. “This can cause infection that needs to be treated with long term antibiotics,” says the professor. “The sufferer will test positive on routing TB tests even though they do not have pulmonary TB. People should always wear powder-free gloves when cleaning their fish aquarium just as a precaution to exposure.”
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