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How to protect you and your family from diseases that can be transmitted from pets to people.

We're a nation of pet lovers.

There are many benefits of pet ownership. They provide companionship and a range of positive emotional, physical and psychological benefits. However, it is important to take precautions to ensure that our pets don’t pose a risk to our health. A zoonotic disease, or zoonosis, is a disease that can be transmitted from an animal to a human. This post will provide information on strategies to help you and your family stay healthy while enjoying the benefits of pet ownership.

Three in five households are reported to have a pet, with an estimated 5.1 million pet dogs and 3.8 million pet cats.

Examples of zoonotic infections.

Examples of zoonotic infections that can be transmitted from pets to humans include:

BACTERIAL INFECTIONS:
  • Cat-scratch fever (Bartonella henselae),
  • flea-borne spotted fever (Rickettsia felis),
  • Campylobacter, Salmonella,
  • leptospirosis
PARASITIC INFECTIONS:
  • Intestinal worms (canine hookworm,
  • roundworm and tapeworm),
  • mites (sarcoptic mange, also known as scabies),
  • protozoa (toxoplasmosis, Giardia, Cryptosporidium)
FUNGAL INFECTIONS:
  • Ringworm:

Guidelines and recommendations to help reduce the risk.

The Australian Companion Animal Zoonoses Advisory Panel is a group of veterinary and human infectious disease experts. The panel has developed guidelines and recommendations to help reduce the risk of disease transmission from pets to people. Key recommendations from the guidelines to reduce the risk of disease transmission from pets to humans include:

  • Select the right pet
  • Regular veterinary care and health checks
  • Ensure good hygiene practices
  • Avoid feeding raw diets
  • Monthly deworming
  • Year-round control of external parasites

Read on to find out more about each recommendation.

Always speak to your vet or doctor if you have specific questions about the health of your pet or your family.

Select the right pet.

To stay healthy and safe it is important to select the right pet for your circumstances and for the whole
family to learn how to interact with the pet safely. Young animals pose a greater risk of transmitting some zoonotic diseases and so adopting a healthy adult dog or cat rather than a puppy or kitten should be considered for people at greater risk of severe disease (e.g. people with weakened immune systems or pregnant women).

Reptiles and amphibians are a known source of harmful infections (e.g. Salmonella) and so keeping them as pets in households with children under five years of age is not recommended. 

SAFE INTERACTION 

  • Children should always be supervised around animals and be shown how to safely interact with them to reduce the risk of injury (e.g. bites) 
  • Ensure that dogs are socialised and well-trained to reduce the risk of aggression 
  • Children should be taught the importance of hygiene after handling animal.

Regular veterinary care and health checks.

Regular veterinary visits, at least once a year, are essential to keep your pet healthy, which is also good for our health. Regular health checks allow your vet to detect diseases, infections or parasites that may affect the health of both you and your pet. Your vet can also give you advice on the best strategies to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission, including vaccination, parasite control and diet.

VACCINATION
Vaccination is essential to protect your pet against a number of important infectious diseases, some of which can be a risk to people. For example, leptospirosis (a bacterial disease usually spread by rats) and Bordetella bronchiseptica (a bacteria which causes canine cough) can affect dogs and may also rarely affect people.

Speak to Sage Vets about the most appropriate vaccination program for your pet and how often your pet should receive a health check.

Ensure good hygiene practices.

Good hygiene practices are essential to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission from pets to people, especially for higher risk groups: children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. HAND WASHING Hand washing is one of the best ways to stay healthy around pets and can also protect you against other diseases. Hand washing should be performed:

  • After contact with pets
  • After feeding your pet or handling pet food
  • After handling food and water bowls and pet bedding
  • After cleaning up pet faeces
  • After outdoor activities
  • Before eating and drinking
DISPOSE OF DOG FAECES PROMPTLY Immediate collection and disposal of pet faeces will reduce contamination of the environment (e.g. backyard or park) with zoonotic organisms and parasite eggs.

SUPERVISION OF CHILDREN Children should be supervised to minimise risk of oral exposure to contaminated material (e.g. soil and sand). Children’s sand pits should be covered when not in use

Avoid feeding raw diets.

Raw diets can pose a risk of infection to your dog and your family.

Raw diets can be contaminated with zoonotic organisms such as Salmonella and Campylobacter – a recent study detected Campylobacter in 90% of Australian chicken meat. People may becomeinfected from contact with the raw diet or the faeces of animals which have consumed the diet. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, avoid feeding raw diets to dogs and cats. If raw diets are fed, you should be extra diligent in performing hygiene practices (e.g. handwashing, cleaning and disinfection of bowls and contact surfaces).

HUNTING
It is also important to prevent dogs and cats from hunting, as small animals and birds can be  source of zoonotic parasites (e.g. hookworm and roundworm) or bacterial infections (e.g. Salmonella).

Monthly deworming.

Intestinal worms can affect dogs and cats of all ages and some of these worms can also cause disease in humans.

Examples of common cat and dog intestinal worms that can affect people:

ROUNDWORM
Roundworm eggs can be found in soil wherever dogs and cats have passed faeces. Studies from all over the world have demonstrated high rates (13-35%) of soil contamination with canine roundworm eggs in public places such as sandpits, parks, playgrounds and beaches. If roundworm eggs are accidentally ingested by a human, the parasite can migrate to internal organs, affecting muscles, eyes and the brain. Young children are considered most at risk as they are more likely to play in contaminated areas and place things in their mouths. A recent study estimated that 7% of Australians have antibodies to canine roundworm, indicating that they have been exposed to the parasite.

HOOKWORM
Hookworm eggs are passed in the faeces of infested dogs and cats. The eggs hatch and the larvae can infest people by penetrating the skin (e.g. if walking barefoot on contaminated sand or soil). The larvae can then migrate through the skin resulting in itchy and inflamed skin lesions and other more serious diseases.

Deworming recommendations

Monthly deworming of dogs and cats is recommended to reduce environmental contamination and minimise the zoonotic risk of roundworm and hookworm. Puppies and kittens should be wormed every two weeks until 12 weeks of age

Year-round control of external parasites.

Some external parasites of dogs and cats can cause disease in people or transmit other organisms which cause disease.

FLEAS
Fleas are a common parasite of cats and dogs. Fleas are not only a problem for our pets, they can also transmit bacterial infections and parasites to people:

  • Flea-borne spotted fever – caused by a bacterial infection most commonly transmitted when a person is bitten by an infected flea 
  • Cat-scratch disease – caused by a bacterial infection transmitted in flea faeces. People typically become infected through breaks in the skin (e.g. after being scratched or bitten by a cat) 
  • Flea tapeworm – a parasite transmitted by fleas that has the potential to infect people
MITES
Sarcoptic mange (also known as scabies) is a highly contagious condition of dogs caused by microscopic Sarcoptes mites. The dog variety of the mite can also infest humans and cause a temporary dermatitis with intensely itchy skin lesions that can last for several weeks.

External parasite control recommendations

Cats and dogs should be administered effective flea control products all year round and all pets in the household should be treated. To reduce the risk of human exposure to Sarcoptes mites, dogs should receive a product which treats and controls mites.
Call to speak to your local Sage Vets about an optimal parasite control program for your pet.

References: 
1. Animal Medicines Australia. Pets in Australia: A national survey of pets and people (2019). 2. Walker, L.J., et al (2019) Prevalence of Campylobacter coli and Campylobacter jejuni in retail chicken, beef, lamb, and pork products in three Australian states. J Food Prot, 82(12), 2126-2134. 3. Fakhri, Y., et al (2018) Toxocara eggs in public places worldwide – A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ Pollut, 242(Pt B), 1467-1475. 4. Rostami, A., et al (2019) Seroprevalence estimates for toxocariasis in people worldwide: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Negl Trop Dis, 13(12), e0007809.

The above information is reproduced with permission from Boeringher Ingleheims  ‘Keeping Pets Health’ client brochure (2021).

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