And the Human-Animal bond

By Bernadine Cruz, DVM

Zoonotic (pronounced “zoe-oh-NOT-ick”) conditions are ones that can be passed from animals to people as well as the other way around. With Ebola disease recently dominating news coverage, the public is becoming keenly aware of the possible perils associated with the inter-relationship of animals and people and the sometimes deadly intersection of the two.

In 1976, on the banks of the Ebola River, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the first known outbreak of a disease that had an 88% fatality rate in humans was reported. Since that time the numbers of epidemics have been sporadic and thankfully were restricted to discreet locales in Africa. The current plague affecting parts of West Africa, Spain and United States has raised many questions regarding how this disease is disseminated, how our pets may be affected and what other emerging and known illnesses may be putting the human-animal bond at risk.

In October of last year, in an overly cautious move, authorities in Spain elected to euthanize Excalibur, the dog owned by an Ebola positive health worker. She contracted the disease after treating an infected patient who traveled to Spain from West Africa for care. There is no evidence that dogs or cats can contract or spread this Filoviridae virus. Dogs and cats living in the West African nations where Ebola epidemic is running rampant have not been sickened by the virus. Present scientific knowledge shows that Ebola is not spread through water, air or cooked food. It is disseminated via contact with bush meat in Africa (wild animals used for food), objects contaminated with bodily fluids from a person demonstrating sign of Ebola illness such as vomiting, diarrhea and their blood (bedding, clothing and medical equipment). The chance of people or pets in the United States contracting the disease is unlikely. There are no routine diagnostic Ebola tests available for pets. To learn more about Ebola, go to www.AVMA.org and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mom was right…wash your hands when you finish playing with the dog (or cat or bird, turtle, snake or any other critters for that matter). Even your dear house pet can be the source of illness for you and your family. Diseases such as Bartonellosis (cat scratch fever), Campylobacter, Cryptosporidiosis, E. coli, Leptospirois, Plague (Yersinia pestis), Rabies, Salmonellosis (not just from raw chicken), Toxoplasmosis, Toxocariasis (round worms) and Tularemia can be spread from pets to people. Before you think ‘no more pets for me!’ remember that people can also sicken pets (and it isn’t just from the cloying sweet baby talk). This is known as ‘reverse zoonosis’. During the 2009 influenza (H1N1) outbreak, several cats, dogs and ferrets became ill after snuggling with their sick owners.

At times we can be too close for comfort and health with our pets. Allowing a pet to ‘French kiss’ you should be avoided. Do you know where that mouth has been??? Licking of paws and bums can transport invisible amounts of feces. Contacting open sores, getting into eyes or noses can allow bacteria, viruses or fungi (ringworm) to invade your body. Not everyone who is exposed to zoonotic organisms will become ill. People or pets that are immune compromised, ill with diseases like cancer, diabetes, the very young or old and pregnant women are at greater risk.

Pets provide fabulous benefits to us physically and mentally. They can entice us to put on our walking shoes and get some exercise when we otherwise would have sat on our rump doing nothing. They bring down our blood pressure from merely petting them and they provide unconditional love. Enjoy your pet. Keep everyone healthy by washing your hands after handling them, their food or their bedding. If you feed raw food, take extra precautions handling the food and their stool. Instruct children how to humanely and lovingly care for pets and how to wash their hands frequently (wash with soap and running water for as long as it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song). Take your pet to the veterinarian for annual examinations. Keep them vaccinated and free of internal and external parasites.

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