I am using this column to reprint an article penned by Dr. Richard Allen in May of 2000 from BF magazine. Helpful reading!
Since all of us animals are warm culture ovens with yummy cells to eat, there are lots of microscopic plants and creatures that live in and on our pets — and in and on us, too.
The great majority of these “bugs” are quite harmless and often helpful — even essential — to our health and the health of our pets. But some of them can, and do, cause illness.
Most microscopic plants and animals are very specific about the host they choose to live with. However, there are a few that can tolerate the difference in temperature, moisture, and cells that our various bodies offer. These species-hopping “bugs” that cause disease are called zoonoses.
I have spent more time telling my clients about things that they can’t catch from their pets than about things they can. And the ones you can catch from animals are not so scary when you understand them and know how to prevent them from spreading.
Rabies is the worst of the diseases that can spread from other animals to people, but vaccinations and diligence have greatly reduced this old menace. The rabies virus travels along nerves until it reaches the brain and eventually kills its host. The virus is transmitted through bodily secretions, which is why you can contract it after being bitten by an infected animal. The amount of time until symptoms appear depends on the physical distance between the point of exposure and the brain. Vaccinated animals serve as a wall of protection between the rabies reservoir in wild animal populations and us. Moreover, rabies can be prevented in exposed humans with a shot or two. What to do: Never kiss animals you don’t know. Never handle a wild animal at all. Report any bite by any animal and seek medical help and advice immediately.
Camphylobacteriosis is a bacterium that causes diarrhea in puppies and kittens. People that get it have watery diarrhea, fever, and a stomach ache. What to do: Wash your hands immediately after handling or treating puppies or kittens.
Giardia is known as the monkey-faces protozoan. These little guys with whip-like tails cause diarrhea and weight loss in pets and people. Giardia is spread through contaminated water and by contact with fecal material. There are now reliable tests and drugs, as well as a new vaccine for pets. What to do: Don’t drink the water if you aren’t sure of the source and wash your hands after handling sick pets.
Leptospirosis is a corkscrew shaped bacteria. Lepto is spread in urine. This urine may infect the soil and water. Lepto prefers warm tropical parts of the world. Cattle lepto is much more common than the dog type. This disease has been greatly reduced through vaccine programs. What to do: Washing hands before hand-eye or hand-mouth contact eliminates the worry about Leptospirosis.
Tularemia is also known as rabbit fever and deerfly fever. Ticks that bite us after biting an infected dog or cat can spread it. What to do: Use tweezers and rubber gloves to remove ticks, and take precautions not to get bitten by them in the first place.
Dermophytoses are called ringworm. The term comes from the round ring that may occur on our skin. The ring is about the size of a quarter and has a red perimeter. Ringworm is a fungus that lives on and in hair. It prefers cats. Some animals have ringworm and show no symptoms. On humans, it prefers the forearms, scalp, and face. Children and babies are very susceptible. What to do: Vacuuming up hair will remove the fungus from the environment. Don’t let your children handle pets you don’t know about. A vaccine has been developed to protect pets. Washing hands and wearing gloves protects adults.
Scabies is a little parasite that likes to live on the skin and causes mange. Scabies is particular about its host. Human scabies is a special variety. Canine scabies may cause some little red bites if we touch infected animals or bedding. However, the animal scabies can’t reproduce on humans and is short-lived.
Toxoplasmosis can cause disease in humans. Cats with or without symptoms may shed it. Women who are first exposed during a pregnancy may have babies with birth defects. What to do: Pregnant women should never handle a litter box or dig in the garden without gloves. Washing hands after handling litter or soil outside is a good idea.
Finally, I should add that the easiest thing you can catch from a pet is love!
Feel free to call us with any questions at 518-828-6044 or www.cghs.org. Stop down and see us at 111 Humane Society Road, off Route 66 (about a mile south of the intersection with Route 9H) in Hudson. Our hours are 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. every day. The Food Bank is open to any from the public in need of pet food or for those wishing to donate food anytime during business hours. All of our cats and kittens are “Furrever Free” with all expenses paid. Spay/neuter clinics for cats are $76 male or female, including a rabies vaccination and a 5-in-1 feline distemper combination vaccination. Nail clipping services are available 10-11 a.m. every Saturday at the shelter, no appointment necessary, for a donation of $5 for cats and $10 for dogs. Charlene Marchand is the Chairperson of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society/SPCA Board of Directors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.