Pets can serve as wonderful companions – and owning one certainly has many physical and mental health benefits.
However, with the summer months upon us, it is likely your pets will be spending more time outdoors, leaving them prone to zoonotic diseases – diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
A Corpus Christi, Texas, man and his daughter spent weeks in the hospital because of a diseased cockatiel bought from a PetSmart store, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the man’s family.
Joe De La Garza, 63, later died of psittacosis, KRIS 6 News reported.
“There have been over 250 zoonotic diseases identified,” said Dr. Roger Mahr, past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “There is a particular focus on household pets. They are definitely an area of concern. More than 60 percent of U.S. households have pets and the value of that companionship has been recognized.”
Zoonotic diseases, which present themselves in the form of bacteria, viruses and fungal infections, can be transmitted from animals to humans four ways, Mahr said:
1.) Direct contact with the animal or the animal’s surroundings;
2.) Oral ingestion of the animal’s feces or things that have touched the animal’s waste;
3.) Aerosol contact, including contaminated droplets in the air such as when the animal sneezes or when a bird stirs up its feathers and/or waste from the cage and the human breathes it in;
4.) Vector-borne transmission, including fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.
Mahr, a Chicago-area veterinarian, said the following are common diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans:
— Parasites. Internal parasites such as hookworms or roundworms can produce larvae, which can migrate through the human’s body and go through various body organs, including the eyes or skin. External parasites include fleas and ticks.
— Rabies. Transmitted through the saliva of an animal, vaccines are available. Take precautions when you are around strange animals that could bite.
— Ringworms. A fungus that lives on the skin of dogs and cats, the spores can be transmitted from the body of the animal to the human through direct contact.
— Psittacosis. This is a bacterial infection that is frequently transmitted by birds. Usually, a bird with psittacosis will be asymptomatic, Mahr said. By the time a person has developed the disease, he or she will have respiratory flu-like symptoms. People might not realize their illness is life-threatening until it has already affected major organs like the heart, liver or kidneys, he added.
— Salmonella. “We hear about it in food,” Mahr said, “but it’s an intestinal bacteria that’s also carried through feces, particularly in reptiles and amphibians.” Mahr said parents should discourage young children from handling frogs and snakes.
— Leptospirosis. This is a bacterial infection transmitted by handling infected urine and then touching your mouth. A vaccine is available, Mahr said.
“The No. 1 way to prevent the transmission of these diseases is to wash one’s hands,” Mahr said. “Wash your hands before preparing food and after handling pets, especially after cleaning up their waste -- even if you are just cleaning their cage or handling their bedding.”
Besides hand-washing, Mahr suggested these tips to prevent transmission of zoonotic diseases:
— Make sure your pet has regular veterinary check-ups and receives the necessary vaccinations and preventative medications;
— Clean up litter boxes and waste in the yard immediately after the pet relieves itself;
— Wear gloves when cleaning up any waste material and when cleaning your fish tank;
— Avoid walking your pet in wooded areas where ticks and mosquitoes live, or areas where rodents and raccoons may be; they carry diseases, too;
— Check your pet on a regular basis for parasites, particularly after it has been outside;
— Avoid letting your pet lick your face. Animals have bacteria and sometimes yeast infections that live in their mouths. For children or people with suppressed immune systems, this can be especially dangerous;
— Be careful of cat scratches. Cats can carry bacteria on their paws and nails.
Mahr cautioned that if a pet is coughing persistently or has diarrhea, it shoud be taken to the veterinarian immediately. These can be symptoms of zoonotic diseases.