Sharing a house with pets: Good for your health?

How many of you own pets such as dogs or cats and have vaccinated them? If you have not, then this is the time to do so. As we explore in our main feature today, these pets can be a source of disease transmission, which if left untreated, could lead to death.

Monday June 30 2014

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.

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