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.

Rabies, a preventable viral infection, is probably the most serious animal-related disease. It can kill your dog or cat, and it can kill people as well. Make sure all your pets have the rabies vaccine. Have your pet wear a tag with its vaccine status (not to mention its name and your phone number in case it gets lost). Rabies begins with flu-like symptoms and progresses to abnormal behaviors such as hallucination and agitation.

Once you’ve got your furry friend safely and healthily home, the CDC suggests following these important but simple precautions:

Wash your hands with running water and soap after coming in contact with animals, whether it’s your own pet or zoo or farm animals. Even if you haven’t touched any animal, wash your hands after leaving a coop or stall or other living quarters for pets, and after touching clothes or shoes that have become soiled.
You should also:

*Wash your hands after you’ve picked up after your pet

*Scrub up after you’ve given your pet some treats

*Remove dog feces with a plastic bag

*Keep kids away from areas that are likely to have dog or cat feces

*Cover any backyard sandbox to prevent a cat from using it as a litter box

*Clean a cat’s litter box daily

*Supervise very young children when they’re with pets to make sure they’re not handling anything they shouldn’t.

The best way to wash hands is with running water and soap, the CDC says. Use sanitizers if running water and soap aren’t available. Adults should help very young kids wash their hands thoroughly.
Call your doctor right away if you or a family member begin feeling ill, and tell them about the pets you have contact with. And call your pet’s veterinarian if you think pets may be sick. Contact your pet’s veterinarian if you are concerned that your pet may be sick. Typical signs of a pet being ill include lethargy, unwillingness to eat, a refusal to be touched, and unusual aggressiveness or vocalizing.

Although these routines and precautions might seem like a lot to learn, they are no more difficult than how we look after ourselves. We get our health checked; we have good personal hygiene. Once we have the routine down, we don’t think too much about it. The same is true for caring for pets.

The CDC emphasizes that owning a pet comes with many health benefits. Animals can help manage loneliness and depression, the agency says, as well as give you more opportunity to exercise, get outdoors and even come into contact with other people.. Pets can increase your opportunities to exercise, participate in outdoor activities, and socialize, and that can mean an improvement in hypertension and cholesterol levels. It’s no wonder that healthy pets = healthy people!

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