Why the need for an alarm clock when you are more likely to wake up from the wet licking tongue of your dog or the sudden jump on your face from your cat? And being a pet owner, I know the joy this wake-up brings to me every day.
But, how safe is it to let your pet sleep with you? According to veterinary health expert Dr. Jane Heller (Ph.D.) of Charles Sturt University, NSW, this (and any other form of close contact with your pet) does carry some risk of infection.
As she explains, “pets are not sterile… so there is always some chance of bacterial or parasitic transfer from companion animals to humans. And clearly, those risks are greater if you are sleeping in, or generally closely sharing, the same environment as your animal.”
The good news is, taking proper care of your and your pet’s health and hygiene means that such dangers can be easily avoided, giving them little to no chance to occur.
However, being aware of what dangers close contact can bring is key to preventing them from ever happening in your home.
SO, WHAT ARE THE MAIN DANGERS THAT MAY ARISE?
In terms of bacteria, there are two types of bacteria that you can pick up from your pets: those that your pets have ingested, and those that already live in or on them.
The ingested bacteria can be pretty nasty, including Salmonella and Campylobacter. While they don’t usually make your pets ill, getting in touch with them can cause quite dangerous gastro-type illnesses in humans.
And the easiest way to get in touch with these bacteria is through the feces. In other words, taking your dog for a walk and not wiping their paws when they enter the home, or not washing your hands and making lunch, can easily mean that you will catch some of these bacteria.
Pets ingest these bacteria by eating raw chicken necks and bones, and while this is good for their teeth, the occurrence of the bacteria in their feces is highly likely. If you feed your cat or your dog with raw chicken bones or necks, make sure you wipe their paws clean and wash your hands after taking your dog for a walk or after cleaning your cat’s litter.
The bacteria that are naturally present on your pets can also be problematic, the most famous being Staphylococcus. These bacteria can cause various illnesses to humans, ranging from skin and wound infections to pneumonia and meningitis.
“We know that dogs and cats carry Staphylococcus in their noses and on their coats, and we also know that the incidence in humans of antibiotic-resistant strains [of staph] are on the rise in the community,” explains Heller.
The biggest risk of picking up these bacteria is by letting your pets nuzzle your mouth, nose, and eyes. And, as Heller explains, if your immune system is weak, or you have open wounds, the risk is even more significant.
And then, there is the risk of parasites – namely Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can live in warm-blooded animals, especially cats.
This parasite can be dangerous to those with compromised immune system and especially to pregnant women who can transmit it to the developing baby and it can damage the development of their brain and eyes.
However, the potential of contracting this parasite is minimal if the cat litter is cleaned regularly and good hygiene is maintained, explains Heller.
In fact, any parasitic infection, such as roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, as well as the fungal skin infection ringworm, can be easily controlled and avoided by regularly bathing and worming your pets. And even if they are contracted, they can be easily eradicated in most people.
HOW TO MINIMIZE THE RISK?
Heller explains that the average healthy human has very low chances of getting sick from their pets, even if they sleep with them and are exposed to some of the bacteria or parasites present on the pets.
However, the risk is higher with people with compromised immunity, including the very young, the very old, those who are pregnant, those affected by HIV or who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Heller explains that you should not overstate the risks of illnesses from your pets, taking some easy hygienic steps further reduces the chances of the already low risks.
-Wash your hands after handling your pet, especially before handling food;
-Implements for human and animal food preparation should be kept separate;
-Clean any pet feces from your home or garden quickly and hygienically;
-Deworm and protect your pets from fleas and other parasites regularly;
-Avoid feeding your pets raw meat or offal;
-Take particular care when your children are around young animals;
-Pay special attention when your or someone else’s immune system is weakened.
Even if pets come with risks, never forget the number of positive benefits pets have on our health and wellbeing.
Source: ABC Health & Wellbeing
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