Pets can be a real blessing. In a world that values pharmaceutical drugs and the medication of symptoms, pets can offer an alternative to help improve mental and physical health. But researchers at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine say you might want to think twice before letting Spot climb onto the bed.
Even healthy pets can carry parasites, bacteria or viruses that cause mild to life-threatening illness in people. Of the 250 zoonotic diseases — meaning infections transmitted between animals and people — more than 100 come from domestic pets.
Because most zoonotic diseases are under-diagnosed or not reported to health authorities, no one really knows how many cases occur each year. And even though disease transmission is low in comparison to how many people sleep with their pets — more than half of all U.S. pet owners — the risks are still there. Researchers estimate that several million infections are passed between pets and people annually in the United States, ranging from skin conditions to life-threatening illnesses.
In short, having a pet in the bed may not be a good idea. Infections transmitted to people after sleeping with their cat or dog, kissing them or being licked by the pet include: hookworm;
ringworm; roundworm; cat scratch disease; and drug-resistant staph infections.
Owners can stay healthy by practicing good hygiene habits. Remember to wash your hands with soap and hot water after handling pets, especially puppies, kittens or any aged cat or dog with diarrhea. These “high-risk pets” are more likely to harbor an infection that could be passed to people. Also, immediately wash any area licked by a pet.
To prevent and catch illnesses early, keep your pets free of fleas and ticks, routinely de-worm them and have them regularly examined by a veterinarian.
People with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for getting an infection from an animal. These include seniors, children younger than five years, people with HIV/AIDS, and cancer patients.
This is not meant in any way to scare you away from having a pet. In truth, the health benefits of owning a pet can and should outweigh any risks. Research shows all kinds of conclusive evidence that pets could help heal and soothe health complaints. Heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Apparently, even watching a tank full of tropical fish may help lower your blood pressure, at least temporarily. Bringing a pet into a nursing home can improve people’s moods and desire and ability to interact socially.
Keep your friendship with your pet safe and infection-free. A pet can be a wonderful addition to your life when you both stay healthy.