Keeping Your Pet (and Yourself) Healthy

We Americans love our pets – and we’ve got millions of them. According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are 164 million owned pets across the country, in 62 percent of our households. But while pets provide love, comfort and companionship, they may also have health issues, and some of them can affect us. Here, from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are some tips on keeping your pet (and your family) healthy.

Once you’re ready to get a furry friend, make sure you choose the pet that’s right for you. That may not be as simple as picking the cutest or the tiniest one. The most important measure: whether you have the resources and ability to look after a pet and keep the animal healthy. The CDC suggests that you research what the needs of the particular animal are. How much exercise does the pet need? How large will it become? Is the type of animal aggressive? How much will it cost for veterinary care?

Veterinary visits are a must for a pet’s health, so you or a trusted friend or family member need to be able to do that. Keep up with your pet’s vaccines, deworming, and flea and tick control, the CDC says. (Your pet may carry ticks that can spread serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to people. In areas with plague, fleas are a risk to both animals and their owners. Consult your veterinarian about ways to prevent ticks and fleas on your pet.)

Other good-health duties: Give your pet a good diet, fresh water, clean bedding, and exercise, the CDC says. By keeping your pet healthy, you keep yourself and your family healthy.

As with any undertaking – whether it’s skiing for the first time or riding on a motorcycle – there are some general cautions to be aware of:

A reptile or amphibian – say, turtles and frogs – might seem like a good way for a child to get acquainted with having a pet. In fact, though, it’s very dangerous for kids under 5 to have contact with reptiles or amphibians. The CDC has said that the bacterial infection salmonella is easily transmitted from these creatures. Children and infants are especially susceptible to salmonella.

Pregnant women should avoid adopting or handling stray cats, especially kittens. Moms-to-be should especially not clean litter boxes. They are sources of toxoplasmosis, a bacterial infection that can be transmitted to a baby via the placenta of the mother-to-be. In some cases, toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects or even be fatal.

People who have immune-system illnesses, including HIV infection and AIDS, should be careful in handling and choosing pets, the CDC says. The agency advises a talk with your physician and a veterinarian before taking home an animal companion.