You Can Get More Than Love From Your Pet
Whether you’re the proud owner of a cuddly kitten, a loyal, fun-loving dog, or a cute hamster, chances are that you get many things from your pet — unconditional love, good company, and reduced stress, for starters. Unfortunately, scores of infectious organisms — from bacteria to fungi to viruses — can also be transmitted from your pet to you.
“We don’t live in a sterile world, and the animals that are our pets and companions are not free of germs,” says Susan Rehm, MD, vice chair of the Cleveland Clinic Infectious Disease Department in Ohio. “It occasionally happens that you can pick up a disease from your pet.” The elderly, the very young, pregnant women, and people with a compromised immune system are most vulnerable, according to a review of 500 studies, published in The Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Here’s a guide to some of the pet-to-people illnesses you should be aware of — with advice on how to keep from catching them.
Ringworm From Pet Puppies and Kittens
Young animals are more likely than older dogs and cats to transmit this disease to people. Ringworm is caused by a fungus and gives people a scaly, reddened circular rash on the skin or a bald patch on the scalp. Some adult pets, usually cats, often don’t even show any ringworm symptoms. But you can pick up ringworm easily by touching an infected pet or even a pet’s blanket or towel. It’s also present in garden soil where cats and dogs may have done their business. If you get ringworm, you can use a topical antifungal ointment — one that contains miconazole, for example. In certain more serious cases, your doctor may prescribe an oral antifungal drug.
Prevention Tip: “The best thing you can do to prevent a ringworm infection is to wash your hands as soon as you pet your animal,” says Greg Nelson, DVM, diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and a staff member of Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, New York. Also, he advises, wear gloves when you garden.
Parrot Fever (Psittacosis) From Pet Birds
Your pet parrot, parakeet, or macaw could be infected with a bacteria called Chlamydophila psittaci and could transmit it to you. People can catch this by inhaling dried secretions from infected birds, even though the birds themselves may not appear ill. Symptoms you might get include fever, chills, muscle aches, and a dry cough. Your doctor may prescribe you an antibiotic like tetracycline or doxycycline.
Prevention Tips: “Be careful while cleaning bird cages so that you don’t stir up any debris,” Lopez says. If you are cleaning in an area that is not well-ventilated, you may want to wear a mask, says Rehm. Be sure the cage lining is cleaned each day, recommends the CDC, and wear gloves when you handle items contaminated with bird droppings.