Monday June 30 2014

Sharing a house with pets: Good for your health?

A child lies beside a dog. Pets are a good companion but they can also

A child lies beside a dog. Pets are a good companion but they can also transmit diseases such as rabies to humans if they are not kept healthy through vaccination. That is why routine vaccination and deworming is recommended. Photo by Shutter Stock 

By Beatrice Nakibuuka

Ann Musoke, a mother of two, acquired two dogs at her home because her children love them. However, beside her children’s love for the pets, she says the dogs offer security for the home.

But because she also knows that pets can be a source of disease transmission, she has made sure that her dogs are dewormed and immunised against rabies.
While people like Musoke are aware of the diseases that pets can transmit to humans, many others keep these animals or birds in their homes without caring so much about what health dangers they could cause.

So, how important is it to live with pets in your home. And, is it good for your health? People keep various types of pets in their homes for several reasons, including companionship, affection and security. The popular pets are cats and dogs. But it is also common to find people keeping birds such as parrots and pigeons as pets, while others keep reptiles and amphibians such as snakes, lizards, and frogs.

Although studies have shown the importance that pets have on one’s physical and mental health, like people, all animals carry germs and diseases which human beings can catch directly through close contact, body scratches, or from the bite of bugs that bit an infected animal.

The first step
Disease can also spread when people come in touch with contaminated urine or feaces.

“If you have a pet or are thinking of adopting one, you need to take note of several things. Like people, animals carry bacteria, viruses, parasites, worms and fungi that cause diseases,” says Dr Thomas Kiggundu, a general practitioner with AAR Health Services.

So when you acquire pets such as dogs in your home, Dr Kiggundu says the first step is to treat them and ensure that they are free from any disease.

“The best way to avoid catching disease from your pet is to ensure they are healthy,” he adds. Besides having them as pets, Dr Kiggundu says it is a bad practice to keep domestic animals and birds such as cows, goats, rabbits, hens, ducks and turkey in the same house where people dwell. Not only do they compete with humans for oxygen, they can also be an avenue for transmitting infections.

These infections can happen through exchange of body fluids and waste from animals. They can cause diseases such as respiratory tract infections, bubonic plague, ringworms, toxoplasmosis, cryptosporidiosis (a diarrhoeal disease) and giardiasis (a form of intestinal infection).

“The bacteria from pets are normally resistant to the gastric juice on the walls of the stomach that kill the germs that are swallowed with food and the chlorine in the treated water. The best way to kill them is by boiling the water,” adds Dr Kiggundu.

While such bacteria live mostly in wet environments, Dr Kiggundu says some can thrive well in dry areas for up to three months.

Other diseases that can spread from animals are rabies, usually through cat and dog bites.

“Once you have been bitten by a dog, ensure to wash the bite with water containing a detergent. Sterilise the wound with iodine or surgical spirit, and then go to the nearest health facility,” explains Dr Kiggundu.

On the other hand, keeping pets such as reptiles and snakes can be dangerous because they carry salmonella, a kind of bacteria (germ) that can be hard to kill.

Even though a person does not get in close contact with the pet, the risk of germ infection is high.

Dr Kiggundu explains that when a dog bites a person for instance, the best option is to seek treatment from a human doctor.

“Going to a veterinary doctor will not be helpful because their work is only to ascertain that the animal that has bitten you does not carry any diseases,” he says.
In the case of cat bites, the injury may not look serious, but doctors warn that germs from cat mouth can get into the skin and cause infection. However, it can also be treated with antibiotics.

People at risk
Dr Kiggundu says among people who keep pets in homes, infants, pregnant women, those with a history of asthma and a weak immune system have a higher risk of acquiring diseases from infected animals or birds.

“Some people develop hypersensitive reactions to the hairs of these animals, their breath or even their dead skin.

So that when they come in close contact with any of them, they start to sneeze instantly, says Herbert Muganwa, a veterinary doctor at Countryside Vet Clinic in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb.

Dr Muganwa notes that if pets are kept clean and free of diseases, usually under the supervision of a veterinary doctor, then they are unlikely to cause any infections to human beings.

“Sharing shelter with animals may not be dangerous as long as you keep your pet clean and vaccinated but do not share a bed or plate with it. If you cannot tame or care for your pet, then it is not worth keeping it in your home,” notes Dr Muganwa.

Dr Paul Zziwa, another veterinary doctor at Dolittle Pet Care Clinic, says regular vaccination and deworming of pets, especially dogs and cats, will keep them free of infections.

“Take your dog for vaccination against rabies as often as possible to minimise chances of infection in case it bites a person.
Puppies should also be dewormed monthly until they are three months, and then once every three months as they grow,” he says. “Cleaning places where pets live and properly disposing their wastes can help to control transmission of parasites to humans,” he adds.

So, as you prepare to own a pet, let these be your guiding principles to avoid catching preventable diseases.


•Decide on what pet you want to adopt, when, where and for what reasons. Then get it from a well-recognised pet breeder.
•Introduce it to your family while it is still young so it gets used to the people around it, and the people in turn get used to it.
•Provide essentials such as shelter, food and water for the pets in separate setting from humans.
•Watch over infants below five years as they play with pets such as cats or dogs, to ensure they do not put their fingers in the pet’s mouth and later in their own mouth, as this could be one way diseases can potentially spread.
•Always wash your hands after touching a pet or cleaning its dwelling place.
•Do not allow pets close to areas where you prepare your food .
•Feed the pets with proper food as directed by the veterinary doctor, to reduce their risk of becoming malnourished, and thereby prone to diseases.
•Do not wash your pet in your bathtub as this may cause infections to you and your family. Merab Acham, a student at Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine says, pets, especially dogs should be washed at least once a week using dog shampoo. This can keep them free from infections.