Zoonosis - What's That?
The World Health Organization defines a "zoonotic disease" as a "disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans and vice-versa."
What does this mean for a pet owner? Well, unfortunately there are certain illnesses--even dangerous ones--that we can contract from contact with our own pets. While standard good hygiene and cleanliness can help prevent disease transmission, there are some specific diseases/infections that can require special precautions:
This is a parasite that can be carried by cats and passed along via their feces (stool). Though not rampant, toxoplasmosis infection in pregnant women is highly concerning because the parasite can cross the placenta and cause serious, sometimes fatal, problems for the fetus. This is why your doctor will tell you to have another household member take responsibility for litter box cleaning if you're expecting!
The Pet Health Library (accessible via our Veterinary Information Network page) offers the following recommendations concerning Toxoplasmosis:
- Wash your hands after handling your cat and the litter box.
- Do not allow your cat to eat raw meat. Feed only commercial cat food and do not allow your cat outside to hunt.
- Change the litter box daily or twice daily. It is best of course, if someone else changes the box while you are pregnant.
- Do not dump the litter box in the backyard. Always wear rubber gloves when gardening.
- Do not allow cats access to barns where food animals are kept. This how food animals get infected.
More commonly thought of as "worms," intestinal parasites are often passed via contact with an infected animal's feces. This can be in your own backyard, in your cat's litter box, at the dog park, in a neighborhood common area...there are so many areas where an infected animal may have "done its business."
Examples of these parasites are hookworms and roundworms, and symptoms of parasitic infection include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and other sometimes flu-like signs. Unfortunately, certain worms, such as hookworms, can "migrate" throughout the body, even penetrating the lungs or eyes.
Children can be more susceptible to parasites because they haven't quite mastered the best personal hygiene habits. And because they are young, their immune systems put them even more at risk for the worst effects of parasitic infections.
To help avoid zoonotic transmission of intestinal parasites:
- Follow your veterinarian's recommendations for routine fecal (stool) testing for your pets. At least annually, the medical team will test your pet's stool for signs of parasites.
- Keep your pet current on recommended heartworm and flea/tick preventives. Many heartworm preventives offer protection against other parasites. Fleas can carry and transmit tapeworms, so you'll want to protect your pet and family from flea infestation, too.
- Always thoroughly wash your hands after cleaning the litter box and doing doggie "duty." Keep the litter box, yard, and neighborhood clean by scooping that poop every time!
- Make sure that your children thoroughly wash their hands after playing with pets and pet toys, particularly before eating.
- Try to avoid "face kissing," or letting your pet lick your face. They groom themselves, including their anal area, so they actually can transfer infected stool to you that way.
- Schedule an appointment for your pet right away if you notice vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, or any other out-of-the-ordinary symptoms.
Salmonella is most often associated with contaminated food. However, this bacteria can also be carried by reptiles and amphibians, including those we keep as pets, such as lizards, turtles, and frogs. Much like other food-borne or gastrointestinal illnesses, Salmonella infection can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. And much like the above zoonotic diseases, prevention is key. The United States Association of Reptile Keepers lists some best practices for families with reptile or amphibian pets:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a herp [a herptile, meaning reptile or amphibian], their cage/food/bedding/husbandry equipment/water/etc. or anything in an area where they live or have contacted.
- Use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Adults should supervise hand washing for young children.
- Transmission from pets to adults and then to children is possible. Adults must be sure to wash hands, and even change clothes and/or bathe if previously cleaning cages or excessively handling herps, before playing with children, preparing meals or doing anything that could transmit salmonella from yourself to others.
- It's important not to wash herp food bowls, cages and other equipment in areas where human food is prepared, served or stored.
- Children under 5, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems run a greater risk of infection.
- Pets should always be kept away from human food preparation and eating areas.
- Remember that salmonella may not be just on the herp itself, but also in bedding and caging accessories.
- Wash any clothing the reptile or amphibian might have touched.
- Disinfect any surfaces that have been in contact with herp.
- Salmonella transmission from pets is preventable through proper hygiene and child supervision.
- Don't bathe animals or clean their habitats in your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub.
- If bathtubs or sinks are used for these purposes, they must be thoroughly disinfected afterward.
If you have any questions or concerns about your pet and the risk for any zoonotic diseases, please do not hesitate to contact us! Remember, prevention can be the best protection!