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Zoonosis - Can my pet make me sick?

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on July 24, 2019 at 18:53

Like their human friends, animals can contract and transmit various bugs and illnesses! Although the risk is minimal, you should nevertheless know what to look for in your pet, or someone else’s best bud, and how to avoid becoming sick.

Ouch! It bit and scratched me!

Pets can be quite unpredictable. Even affectionate pets are liable to hurt the ones they love when they are scared, or for no apparent reason. Even though bites and scratches are usually harmless, they can sometimes trigger serious complications.

If the bite or scratch has only slightly damaged the skin, the wound should be cleaned with soapy water, and covered with a sterile bandage. If the wound is deeper and bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth to stop the bleeding and go to the emergency room immediately. You should consult a physician without delay if your last tetanus shot dates back ten years, if the wound is deep and soiled, if the skin is swollen, red, oozing and hurts, and if a papule or a ganglion appears close to the wound. The same precaution applies if you think the animal that bit you was not immunised against rabies.

To prevent unfortunate incidents, cut your cat’s or dog's nails regularly and teach children to respect animals and not irritate them. As a cat or dog owner, it is your responsibility to train your animal properly and teach it not to bite.

A rabid dog?

Although rare in Canada, the rabies virus is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, generally when it bites or scratches human skin. If your animal shows abnormal aggressiveness, is behaving strangely or salivates excessively, you must consult a veterinarian immediately. All dogs and cats must be vaccinated yearly against rabies, a deadly disease.

Itchy and scratchy!

If the term “my little flea” is endearing, you should know that a flea infestation is not at all pleasant! These miniscule parasites target cats and dogs, but humans can also be bothered by an itchy rash if it turns out they are allergic to flea bites.

Fleas feed on the blood of their host. The problem is that these parasites reproduce at a frantic pace: fleas lay 50 eggs per day during their three weeks of life, eggs that can survive up to six months on sofas, beds and carpets! Therefore, the very best way to avoid flea infestations is prevention: regular treatments are recommended because all animals are exposed every once in a while. Many options are available. Liquids that are applied directly to the skin of the animal once a month, pill-form for dogs, drops to swallow and injections for cats.

What is happening to my skin?

Pets can sometimes transmit a contagious fungal infection called ringworm, also known as “Tinea”. This infection manifests itself through the appearance of red and round itchy patches. The surface of these patches soon flakes off and forms a crust. If the infection affects the scalp, the hairs will be short and even rare on a patch.

Ringworm is treated with topical antifungal creams or tablets. Animals suspected of having ringworm should be examined by a veterinarian. A complete and thorough cleaning of the house and car is also necessary to remove all hairs infected with spores that survive for months in the environment.

You get the sniffles and your eyes water at the sheer sight of a cat?

Pet allergies are quite common and can even appear a few years after a pet has become a member of the household. Cats are the animals most often incriminated, but dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, birds, farm animals and even fish food can cause allergies. Although most believe they are allergic to “cat hair”, the allergy is most often caused by a substance produced at the level of the animal’s skin. This is the reason why even if an animal is not actually in the house, the squamous epithelial cells (dandruffs) that are already in the room are enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

If the allergy is mild, symptoms may be attenuated by washing the animal often, keeping its hair short, forbidding it from climbing on sofas and chairs, by not giving it access to the bedrooms and vacuuming often. Replacing carpets and other fabrics with materials that are easier to clean like wood or leather is also a good idea. There is a product that can be applied on the body of the animal, potentially reducing some individuals’ allergic reactions.

If allergies persist despite your best efforts, the only solution to becoming healthy again is separating from your animal. However, most of us will do everything in our power to avoid having to take such drastic measures. It can take weeks and months before all the animal’s squamous epithelial cells completely disappear from the house.

Fecal danger

Pets are so charming that we sometimes forget they can transmit infections. Therefore, reptiles (turtles, iguanas, snakes, etc.), fish, mammals and birds can all transmit bacterial infections, especially salmonella. It can be contracted by touching the animal, the water from the aquarium or ingesting food that has been contaminated with feces. Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches and other flu-like symptoms are typical with these infections.

To prevent infections we must wash our hands thoroughly after handling an animal, thoroughly clean their houses and cages as often as possible and not let reptiles wander around the house. Reptiles could inadvertently contaminate food in the kitchen and we wouldn’t be the wiser.

It is swarming with worms…yucky!

Ailments due to worms are among the most frequent in the world, affecting approximately 30% of the population. Although a lot less frequent in Canada, these contaminations are nevertheless uncomfortable.

Worms can cause digestive problems and weight loss in cats, dogs…and humans! Larva eggs can be found on the animal’s coat, in the environment and in its feces. It is by ingesting these larvae accidentally through soiled hands that humans most often contaminate themselves.

Kittens and puppies usually receive preventive treatments against worms. Adult pets should have their stools examined every year or anytime they show symptoms of a worm infestation.

The best prevention consists in encouraging children not to put their fingers in their mouths and to wash their hands thoroughly after playing in the sand or touching an animal. You should also cover your children’s sandbox to keep it from becoming a cat litter box.

Pregnant? Weakened immune system? Watch out for cats!

Although toxoplasmosis is one of the most common parasitic diseases (it is estimated that 90% of 30-year-old French people are affected), it should not be taken lightly by people at risk for complications. Pregnant women and individuals with immune system deficiencies (e.g. cancer patients, organ transplant patients) should be extra careful.

Although this infection does not usually cause any symptoms, the danger comes when a pregnant woman is infected for the first time during her pregnancy because she can transmit the infection to her foetus. Babies afflicted with congenital toxoplasmosis can suffer from complications such as hearing loss, blindness or mental retardation. We can get contaminated when we touch our mouth after gardening with our bare hands, eaten raw meat, cleaned a cat litter box or touched an object that has been in contact with feline feces. It is suggested individuals at risk have someone clean their cat’s litter box and if that is not possible, to wear gloves, avoid eating raw meat, wear gloves while gardening and wash their hands thoroughly afterward.

Take care of your best friend, he will return the favour…and transmit less!

If you take simple precautions, you need not deprive yourself from having a pet. For more information on the vaccination calendar, speak with your pet’s veterinarian.

Pets are wonderful companions that can bring great joy to your household. Take good care of them and they will love you unconditionally!

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