My fiancé and I recently adopted a half Siberian Husky, half Pomeranian
“Pomsky” puppy. It was love at first sight; he has become
our world. We, like many other animal owners, view him as another member
of our family. I worry about him just like I would my mom, aunts, uncles
or cousins. So the other day when I found him vomiting, refusing to eat,
fatigued and with bloody diarrhea before I left for work, you can imagine
that I was a nervous wreck. Luckily, with my directors’ kind and
understanding approval, I was able to leave work early so that I could
take him to the vet. He tested positive for Giardia, which is already
the second parasite he’s harbored since we adopted him! Fortunately,
by seeking immediate care and putting him on a course of antibiotics,
probiotics and a prescription diet, he is back to being the playful, happy
little bundle of fur that we fell in love with.
Whether furry, feathered or finned, pets can be wonderful companions. Animals
bring such joy to our lives. Not only do they provide emotional support
to their owners, but pets can also be a health booster by improving such
issues as cholesterol and blood pressure in people who have a pet in their
household. Really, pets and their owners take care of each other.
Part of that caretaking means keeping your pet healthy--and that can play
a role in your health and well-being, too, because there are zoonotic
diseases that can be passed from pets to people. While some of those zoonotic
diseases can have serious complications for pets and people alike, the
good news is that they can be easily preventable through some basic tenets
of responsible pet ownership.
The first thing is to keep up with all veterinary appointments and recommended
shots for your animal. Maintaining good pet health is key. With some of
these zoonotic diseases, your pets may show outward symptoms--such as
lesions and loss of fur due to ringworm--but with others, there may be
no visible signs of illness or you may see a symptom, such as fatigue
or diarrhea, that could be a sign of any number of health problems. If
you notice any physical or behavioral change in your pet, you should schedule
a visit with your veterinarian as soon as possible to diagnose the problem.
The other necessary precaution against zoonotic disease is to maintain
good hygiene. It's great to snuggle up with our furry friends, but
when you're done always wash your hands with soap and water. Hand
washing is also a must after handling pet food, cleaning litter boxes
or cages, or picking up pet waste. As vital as hand washing is to preventing
illnesses that spread from person to person, it's also as important
in preventing diseases that spread from animal to person. In addition,
pet owners should immediately wash and clean any animal scratches or bites
they may get from their pet, and seek treatment if a bite is severe enough
to break the skin.
Some of the zoonotic diseases you should be aware of include:
Cat-Scratch Disease: This bacterial infection spreads when an infected cat bites or scratches
a person and breaks skin, or licks an open wound on a person. Many cats
don't show signs of the disease, but some may experience fever or
swollen glands. In people, the resulting infection near the scratch or
bite site can be red, swollen and painful, and can lead to fever, headache
Ringworm: Dogs and cats can spread this fungal disease via direct touch. If a person
touches an infected surface, he can also contract ringworm. Pets can lose
fur and develop itchy, scaly patches or lesions on their skin. The main
symptom in humans is an itchy, scaly, ring-shaped rash.
Salmonella: Usually thought of as a food-borne bacteria, salmonella can also be spread
to humans via infected reptiles, birds and rodents, or contaminated pet
food. Animals shed the salmonella bacteria via their stool, which means
they can contaminate their living area, such as a cage. Some pets may
not show signs of salmonella contamination, while others may be more tired
than usual, have runny stools with blood or mucus, vomit or lose weight.
People with salmonella show similar symptoms as animals.
Parasitic Diseases: Hookworm, roundworm and dog tapeworm are all parasites that can cause a
variety of health problems for people as well as their animals (mainly
dogs and cats). The symptoms vary depending on the type of parasite. For
instance, hookworms can cause blood loss, weight loss and diarrhea in
a dog, but in a person they can cause itchy, irritated skin; on the other
hand, pets and people generally don't exhibit symptoms of tapeworms.
Campylobacteriosis: Touching the contaminated food, water or stool of dogs or cats with this
bacteria can cause illness in humans and pets, including infections, diarrhea,
cramping and fever.
Rabies: A rabid dog bite can lead to a virus that can be fatal to humans. It's
important for dogs to get their rabies vaccination and for owners to keep
an eye on any behavior changes or progressive paralysis in their pet,
which can be signs of rabies. If there's even a chance of rabies,
dog bites require immediate medical attention – don't wait for
any symptoms to appear.
Cheyletiellosis: Mites can cause an itchy, red skin inflammation in people after contact
with infected cats or small pets such as rabbits, hamsters and guinea
pigs. In those animals, cheyletiellosis can cause scaly skin that looks
like dandruff and mites may be visible to the eye.
Giardia: This is spread via contact with food and water that's been contaminated
with infected stool from cats and rats; it can lead to dehydration, cramps,
nausea and vomiting in people and animals, though it can sometimes cause
no outward symptoms.
All human family members are potentially at risk for disease from zoonotic
parasites. The presence of dogs in a household, especially puppies, increases
this risk due to their soiling habits. Parasites infect most of our pets
at some time in their lives; and family members, especially children,
can contract these parasites and the diseases they cause. Eliminating
parasites from pets helps reduce the likelihood of disease transmission
from pet to pet and pet to humans.
Adeline Marcelo, NP, is a nurse practitioner at St. Joseph Hoag Health’s
Wellness Corner at the Village in Irvine. Learn more about St. Joseph Hoag Health. Learn more about St. Joseph Hoag Health’s Wellness Corner
at the Village in Irvine.