Zoonosis is the transmission of an infection or disease from animal to human. It can be viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic.
We have such a close connection to our family pets. They live in our homes, sleep in our beds and kiss our faces. Our pets provide us unconditional love, protection and companionship. We always take caution with wild animals and wash after visiting petting zoos, fairs, parks etc., but do we do enough to protect ourselves in regards to the pets in our very homes?
A zoonotic pathogen can be spread several ways:
- Direct: Exactly as it sounds – bodily fluids such as blood, urine and saliva from an infected animal come directly into contact with ours (i.e. licking your face or an animal bite that breaks the skin).
- Indirect: Transmission can occur by being in contact with areas where animals frequent such as bedding, litter boxes, and food bowls, as well as housing (aquariums, housing) and toys. Don’t forget to include our furniture, children’s toys and eating surfaces. Pathogens can be left behind for us to pick up later.
- Contamination: Of food or water, eating undercooked meat or unpasteurized dairy products.
- Vectors: Such as fleas, mosquitoes or ticks can spread disease with their bites.
Our children, immune compromised, and the elderly are at the highest risk. So how do we protect ourselves and still come home to love and cuddle our animal companions safely?
- Vaccinations: Our pets need to be kept up to date on their vaccines, we can vaccinate our pets from zoonotic diseases such as rabies and leptospirosis.
- Flea and Tick Prevention: Pets who are affected by these parasites can bring them home to us. Fleas spread tapeworms and ticks transmit bacterial diseases such as Lyme disease.
- Routine Deworming: Intestinal parasites that are zoonotic include roundworm and tapeworm.
- Hygiene: Hand washing is obvious, but wearing gloves and a mask when changing litter boxes or washing pet aquariums is a good idea. Frequent washing of both pet and animal bedding, dishes, and toys.
- Safe Food Handling: In regards to our pets, this includes avoiding feeding a raw food diet. If your pet does not eat commercial pet food, then strongly consider cooking home-prepared foods. Pets eating raw meat diets have been shown to carry and spread pathogens such as salmonella in their saliva and feces thus, directly and indirectly, contaminating us and our homes.
CDC – Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Written by Michelle Walsh, RVT