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Living with Dogs and Cats --- Top 7 Health Dangers

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May 27, 2016

By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist


If you're anything like me, that is, you belong to the unofficial union of crazy cat ladies, the news that you can catch sometimes fatal diseases from them is going to come as somewhat of a downer.

But, snuggling your pets, and especially bringing them into bed, is in fact accompanied by its share of dangers. If you have a healthy pet, you're probably okay, but there's no guarantee that that's the case.

And in recent years, more and more studies and statistics have popped up about diseases and domestic animals. If you are particularly old, young, have a weak immune system, diabetes, or are HIV-positive, you should be especially careful.

So, what's the worst that could happen? Well, you could die.

According to research by Ben Sun, a veterinarian at the California Department of Public Health, a 9 year-old boy developed the plague after sleeping with a flea-infested cat and a 60-year-old British woman got meningitis after kissing the family dog.

These are extreme cases, but not out of the question. Although becoming seriously ill from a pet is rare, The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 60% of all human pathogens may be transmitted by animals, and 100/250 zoonotic diseases may come from domestic pets.

It's vital to take your pet to the vet on a regular basis, just like you get checkups yourself. That way you can check if they have some of these top 7 diseases that are commonly spread to humans.









  1. Staph Infections

MRSA (otherwise known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), is an infection that is growing more common in the United States and Europe, especially the transmission from dogs to humans.

In one case, reported from Farrin A. Manian in the division of infectious diseases at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis, Missouri, a family dog was found to be the culprit of both a husband and wife's MRSA infection.

After finding an infection in a patient with diabetes and his wife, Manian discovered that the samples from the pet dog had an identical chromosomal pattern to MRSA in the patient's nares and the wife's wound.

Recurrence of the MRSA infection was prevented only after the eradication of MRSA from the canine's nares.

Hopping continents, we see other incidences of staph, one of the most common pathogens found in skin and postoperative infections in dogs and cats.

It should be noted that humans who work with animals may be especially prone to this, and staph infections can spread to the nasal cavities.

Dr. Ramona Stegmann from the University of Berne in Switzerland wrote up a report in 2010 that detailed a few cases of these infections.

One case comes from an adult patient who presented with a headache, watery eyes, and an oedema over the right eye. The patient also had rhinosinusitis and received 3 surgical interventions over 6 years. This patient owned a dog that had various clinical problems, including warts and an abdominal tumour, and took antibiotics for these conditions.

The source of the patients problems could not be conclusively traced back to the dog, but it is highly probable, as he had the same staph infection that had been disseminated in dogs in Europe in recent years.

2. Cellulitis from Various Causes

Cellulitis is the spreading of bacteria and infection just below the skin's surface.

It is estimated that 30% of cat bites and 6% of dog bites cause cellulitis.

The reason your feline chomping your arm has such a high likelihood of this condition is because they cause puncture marks, causing the organisms to go deeper into the tissue.

Canine chompers, on the other hand, just get at the surface of the skin, and are therefore easier to treat.

The most common things to provoke cellulitis include Pasteurella multocida,Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus intermedius, and anaerobic streptococci, according to a 2006 study by Dr. S. Hemworth from the Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust.

A less common pathogen that occurs in dog bites is called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, formerly DF-2.

This pathogen is especially dangerous for those with weak immune systems, and can cause shock, fulminant, septicemia, and intravascular coagulopathy.

The mortality rate for this last infection is 27%. So, if you end up getting bitten by a family pet, make sure you get the infection identified and treated right away.

3. The Plague

During the 13th century, the Plague killed an estimated 200 million people, making it the greatest human catastrophe in history. Nowadays, your greatest chances of getting the Plague comes from...your pet?

It sounds facetious to say something like “I got the plague from my cat” but, well, you could.

It wouldn't be exactly their fault though; it can be attributed to fleas who had interactions with rats.

The Plague, or yersinia pestis, is transmitted when you are bitten by infectious fleas or when you handle infected animals.

According to a 2008 report by Russell W. Steele, M.D from the Division of Infectious Diseases and Department of Pediatrics at the Oschner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, 5-20 cases occur in the U.S. each year, its manifestations including bubonic plague, pneumonic plague, and septic shock.

In other words, it is quite rare, but definitely not out of the question. You are at much more risk with a feline companion --- transmissions of the plague to dogs by fleas is unusual.

Be sure to de-flea your cat right away. Even if you don't get the plague, nobody likes flea bites.

4. Dermatomycoses (fungal infections)

Both dogs and cats transmit fungal infections, the most common including Microsporum canis and Arthroderma vanbreuseghemii (according to a 2014 report by M.Monod). These fungi can cause ringworms.

About 25% of this human disease is attributable to animal contact.

Therefore, it is essential that animals are treated to prevent reinfection. You should definitely get your animals checked by a vet with this one, as sometimes in long-haired animals, it can be difficult to detect.

5. Leptospirosis

It's official name is Leptospira interrogans, and according to a 1997 report from R.W. Steele, it is most common amongst dogs, but can also be found in reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and invertebrates.

You get this disease when you come into contact with the urine of the animal.

Symptoms include fever, headaches, generalized myalgia, abdominal pain, vomiting, and conjunctival suffusion during the initial phase, which lasts 3 to 8 days.

Afterwards, from 1 to 5 days, a second phase of fever, myalgia, aseptic meningitis, rash, and uveitis starts. Not fun symptoms to have.

Make sure that you wash your hands whenever cleaning up after your dog and taking them out on a walk.

6. Toxoplasmosis

Around a third of the world's population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii (the official name for Toxoplasmosis).   But people whose immune systems are compromised or weak ---- pregnant women, the very old and infants ---- are more vulnerable to the most severe forms of the disease, according to a report from R.M. Fereig at the  Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine.

This charming disease comes from a protozoan parasite, and cats are its only natural host. Toxoplasmosis results from the ingestions of oocysts during exposure to cat feces.

Although the illness is generally mild or asymptomatic, toxoplasmosis can lead to ocular disease, stillbirth, and serious congenital infections in pregnant women, or central nervous system problems in those with a weak immune system.

Make sure that you clean out your kitty's litter box regularly and wear gloves while you're doing it, and you should be fine.

7. Salmonella

I always think of salmonella as the thing you get from eating raw eggs in cookie dough. But it turns out that salmonella can be transmitted more directly by household pets, as well.

In 2014, Dr. B.B. Chomel from the University of California Davis, reported that salmonella was one of the most common animal-derived gastrointestinal pathogens.

In fact, salmonella is the most common pathogen to be recovered from any given type of animal species.

Salmonella is transmitted via feces.

If you suspect that your pets might be infected, the best thing to do is go to a veterinarian and get stool samples tested.

A Last Note

If you take precautions with pets, wash your hands, and don't give them too many up-close smooches, you will probably be fine. Know the risks, and practice good hygiene. If you have a weak immune system or are pregnant, be especially cautious. But also keep in mind that having a dog or cat can be wonderful, and potentially good for your health. A 2012 report by Andrea Beetz at the University of Rostock, Germany, details how human-animal interactions are good for physical and mental health, and that oxytocin plays a large role. Oxytocin is that happy chemical that is released when you hug other humans. So, remember to keep embracing your family pets. Maybe just avoid those kisses and co-sleeping situations, and leave those as things to share with someone of your same species.




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