Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Pets and Parasites
Can my pets make me sick?
Household pets such as dogs, cats, birds and reptiles can carry diseases or parasites that make people sick. The good news is this doesn't happen very often. Most pet-to-people diseases can be avoided if you follow a few common-sense rules.
What can I do to avoid pet-to-people diseases?
The most important thing is to try not to touch your animal's waste products (urine or stool), or objects made dirty by the waste products. For example, you must wash your hands carefully right after cleaning a soiled carpet (including cleaning under your fingernails) or picking up stool.
Don't let small children play in uncovered sandboxes that might be used as litter boxes by neighborhood cats. Keep your children out of the dirt in parks that may be used by local dogs.
Avoid oral contact with your pet--especially sharing food or kissing the pet on the mouth.
Pregnant women and people in poor health should never clean out cat litter boxes. They should have someone else do this job. People who clean out litter boxes should wash their hands carefully right afterward. Soiled cat litter can spread a disease called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis can cause severe birth defects in an unborn child if the mother is infected during pregnancy.
Children under the age of 5 years should not be allowed to play with reptiles (e.g., lizards, snakes and turtles). Don't let your child have a pet reptile, either. Reptiles can spread life-threatening infections to both children and adults.
What can I do to keep my pet healthy?
Have your pet wormed and vaccinated exactly the way your vet recommends. This not only keeps your pet healthy, it also cuts your risk of getting parasites and diseases from your pet.
It's important to control fleas and ticks on your pets and in your house, for the same reason. Fleas and ticks can make both you and your pet miserable and, even worse, they can make you sick.
Another important rule is don't feed raw meat to your pets. Don't let your cat hunt and eat mice. This is how cats get the toxoplasmosis parasite. Keep your pets away from wild animals or stray pets (which might be unvaccinated or sick).
What about children and pets?
It's a good idea to watch toddlers while they play with pets. Small children are more likely to catch infections from pets because they crawl around on the floor with the animals, kiss them, put their fingers in the pets' mouths, and then put their dirty fingers in their own mouths.
Small children are also more likely to be bitten or scratched by pets, since they treat pets as toys. Teach your children how to treat family pets and to avoid strange pets. It may be safest to wait to get a pet until children are past the toddler stage.
If you're planning to get a pet, you might consider adopting an older cat or dog, instead of getting a puppy or kitten. This way you can avoid the housebreaking stage and its problems. Older pets that have been well cared for are less likely to spread disease or become ill themselves. Be careful about taking in sick pets or strays--they carry even more risk of making you or your children sick.