November 10, 2011
The little puppy you brought home is adorable. She saves the
best of her sweet looks and affectionate gestures for you. In turn,
you want her to have the best of everything you can give. In this
mutual exchange of love, you also need to ensure that the pet
doesn't give you something you may not want to take - a zoonotic
disease (a disease that can spread from animals to humans).
We usually do not think that we get diseases from animals, but
these instances happen more than we think. In many cases,
people do not realize that they may have got the infection from
their pets, says Dr. Stacy Eckman, lecturer at Texas A&M
University's College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). In some
cases, the animals themselves suffer from the disease while in
other cases they are not affected by it, she says.
Infestation with intestinal parasites such as roundworms and
hookworms are common zoonotic diseases affecting
household pets like dogs and cats.
"A large percentage of the new puppies I see have hookworms and
roundworms," Eckman says.
So what are symptoms of intestinal parasitic infection in pets
that one should watch out for?
"Poor skin and hair, and a potbellied appearance," she states.
These zoonotic diseases are, however, more common in third world
countries because of poor sanitary conditions. Proper hygiene is
essential to help prevent the spread of these diseases to humans,
Cat owners need to be aware of toxoplasmosis - a disease
transmitted through the feces of cats that can affect the unborn
child in pregnant women. Eckman recommends that households with
pregnant women and cats contact their veterinarian and physician
about precautions. Cleaning the kitty's litter box twice a day,
preferably by other members of the household is a good option, she
One could also get diseases from larger animals as well.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can cause serious liver
and kidney problems. The infection can occur through skin contact
with infected water contaminated with urine.
"Large animals like cattle, goats, pigs, sheep and horses are
reservoirs for this disease and may pass this to our companion
animals," Eckman says. "Humans can then acquire this disease from
infected urine from their pets. Awareness and education helps
prevent zoonotic diseases," she says.
What can pet owners do to prevent these infections?
"When you first get a new pet, contact your veterinarian and
have an exam performed. Most veterinarians talk to you about these
things to protect yourself and your pets," Eckman says.
Zoonotic diseases need not always be transmitted by pets. Other
animals which we encounter can also pass on diseases. For example,
bats are potential carriers of rabies, a fatal disease.
Eckman warns that people should never touch bats. Anybody who
comes into contact with a bat must contact the local rabies
authorities as soon as possible. This is especially important in
the case of young children since they may not be aware that they
may have been bitten.
"Often times, prophylaxis may be recommended, especially if the
sample is too decomposed to test," she says.
The good news is that all these zoonotic diseases can be avoided
with a little bit of preparedness. Veterinarians do routine
exams for dogs to check for different diseases such as intestinal
parasites and external parasites that may transmit blood borne
Routine vaccinations for both cats and dogs are available with
different protocols in different states. Monthly heartworm
preventative medications also help prevent against parasites like
hookworms and roundworms.
Many zoonotic diseases depend on the local conditions prevalent
in the area. So what about Texas?
"We are hot and wet, and so we literally get everything," she
Her take-home message: To consult your veterinarian regarding
"Each patient is different," she stresses. With awareness
and care, zoonotic diseases can often be prevented to ensure a
healthy pet and a healthy owner.
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