Pet-Transmitted Diseases: How to Avoid Them

Researchers are now making recommendations on how people can minimize the transmission of disease from pets.

Investigators from The Ohio State University and partner institutions have compiled information for more than 500 studies worldwide to make the recommendations.

The study was published in CMAJ, The Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Among the nearly 20 diseases people most commonly acquire from pets: salmonella, E. coli and roundworms, said Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at Ohio State. Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with limited immune function are most at risk for animal-borne, or zoonotic, diseases, according to a news release from the university.

Since different species of pets—dogs, cats, rodents, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians—carry different types of diseases and at different stages of life, Stull and his colleagues suggest that families talk to both their doctor and veterinarian about what pet is the safest choice for their family.

“It’s all about safe pet ownership,” Stull said. “There are very few situations in which a person couldn’t or shouldn’t have some type of pet if they wish. It’s about matching the right species with the right person and taking the appropriate precautions.”

He also said there’s more of a need for communication about pets between health-care practitioners.

“Surveys suggest that most veterinarians and physicians do not regularly discuss zoonotic disease risks with clients, patients or each other,” Stull said. “That needs to change if we are going to effectively reduce pet-associated diseases.”

Pets naturally shed disease-causing organisms in their feces, saliva, or from skin, he explained. For example, reptiles and amphibians—pets such as turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders—naturally carry salmonella in their digestive tract. After touching these pets, handwashing is important for everyone, but especially for people who are more vulnerable to infections.

“We’ve worked with families whose kids [are seriously ill] and are spending a lot of time in physicians’ offices, and for numerous reasons miss out on typical activities with other kids,” he said. “Parents may decide to get a puppy or kitten to help replace some of that lost social interaction. But puppies and kittens shed some organisms that adult animals don’t, so an adult animal would probably be a better choice in that situation.”

The general recommendations include:

Wearing protective gloves to clean aquariums and cages and remove feces

Proper handwashing after pet contact

Discouraging pets from face licking

Covering playground boxes when not in use

Avoiding contact with higher risk animals such as reptiles, amphibians, and exotic animals

Regular cleaning and disinfection of animal cages, feeding areas and bedding

Locating litter boxes away from areas where eating and food prep occur

Waiting to acquire a new pet until immune status has improved

Regularly scheduling veterinary visits for all pets.

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