Pets and Disease: Pets Make us Happier and Healthier, Most of the Time.
Social isolation, loneliness, depression and anxiety are just a few of the conditions that a pet can help ease. Pets provide support, unconditional love and comfort and what’s more, especially for children, an opportunity to learn compassion and responsibility. Even people who aren’t dealing with stress or emotional imbalance find that pets can be an extension of their family, a fun companion and a motivation to lead a healthier lifestyle – including exercise and increased activity. We love our pets and often humanize them, however, and can forget that they can carry illnesses that are transferrable to us. A pet can carry bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi that can make a human ill. We should have pets, we should care for pets, but we should be aware of the risks and the proper handling of them to keep us and our families well.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) animal-borne illnesses are referred to as ‘zoonotic’ diseases. The pathogens that animals carry can and often do make us sick. One of the most common bacterial infections known as Campylobacter affects more than one million people annually. More commonly occurring in the summer, and in part due to our increased access to fresh produce, the majority of these cases of illness are not associated with a widespread outbreak. In most cases, this infectious disease is a result of individuals coming in to contact with contaminated water, feces, or even animal saliva. Animals can carry the Campylobacter bacteria in their intestinal tract and transmit it to humans. When humans contract this bacterial infection, the result is usually diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, abdominal pain, and sometimes a high fever or weakness and trouble walking.
Pets and Disease:Who is at Risk?
In addition to coming into contact with contaminated waste or saliva, animal-borne illnesses can occur from animal bites or scratches. Individuals who are immunocompromised, pregnant, very young- having not yet developed a robust immune system, or elderly, are at most risk when it comes to animal-borne infectious diseases. It is important to immediately treat scratches and bites thoroughly with soap and clean tap water, disinfecting the wound to prevent infection. And, in general, when handling pets, it is important to wash hands often, clean up pet waste, and keep animal waste and saliva away from eyes and mouth. Also, keep animal food and treats separate from human food and avoid cross contamination by washing vessels holding animal products and surfaces having come in contact with pet foods.
In my opinion, pet benefits outweigh the risks of pet ownership, but it is important to recognize that risks exist. Always keep pets healthy, regularly visiting a veterinarian and providing them with a healthful diet and clean drinking water. Keeping your pets healthy, along with proper pet handling, will ensure you all stay one big happy family. Feel free to contact the editor for more information about Pets and Disease.