Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Can my pets make me
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
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
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
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
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
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.