Keeping you and your pet healthy
Health benefits of having a pet
Your pet is a huge part of your life – whether you’re a dog owner or a cat lover, your furry companion is nearly always happy to keep you company, play, and have a fuss made of them!
But your much-loved pet is a valuable companion in more ways than one. The benefits of having a pet can:
- Improve our emotional wellbeing
- Reduce feelings of loneliness
- Encourage exercise and outdoor activities
- Create opportunities for social interactions with other people
- Help to lower blood pressure and reduce stress
- Sometimes, even act as an ‘early-warning system’ in detecting epileptic seizures or some cancerous conditions.
However, despite the many ways in which your pet can make your life better, dogs with diseases and unhealthy cats could pose a risk to our health and wellbeing. The best way to keep you both in top shape is to follow some general guidelines.
The Health Risks
Of course your pet wouldn’t wish you any harm, but sometimes, if they have infections or parasites, you can catch something too. Diseases or infections that can pass from animals to humans are known as zoonoses.
Most of the diseases we pick up from dogs and cats are as a result of them becoming infected by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi, which are all things they can pick up during their explorations. People with compromised immune systems (such as organ transplant patients or those undergoing chemotherapy), the very elderly, pregnant women, diabetic people and young children or babies, are potentially at greater risk of catching something from their pet.
Sometimes, pets can carry diseases and infections which do not have an adverse effect on them, but which could adversely affect their owners.
How can someone be infected by their pet?
Just like between humans, there are many ways in which an unwell pet could accidentally infect their owner, including:
- Coming into contact with dogs with diseases, unhealthy cats and an infected animal’s body fluids, such as blood, saliva, urine or stools (faeces).
- Touching an object that’s been in contact with an infected animal, such as toys or grooming tools.
- Breathing in droplets from the air after an infected animal coughs or sneezes.
- Swallowing food or drink contaminated with an infected animal's body fluids.
- An infected animal biting or scratching you.
Although it’s unlike you will become seriously ill from your pet, it might be helpful to know what to look out for.
Bacterial infection from pets
What kinds of bacterial infections from pets are there?
Bacterial infection from dogs with diseases and cats with infections fall into two main categories:
Bacteria ingested by your pets
Bacteria that live naturally on your pets
How can I catch a bacterial infections from pets?
It’s natural for your pet to want to be close to you, but the main risk of picking up bacteria from your pet comes from them nuzzling your eyes, mouth and nose or licking your face or open wounds.
‘Kissing’ your dog, while affectionate, can also mean swapping harmful mouth bacteria, potentially leading to gum decay and tooth loss.
How could infections from pets affect my health?
- Infections can cause a range of illnesses in humans, from skin and wound infections to pneumonia and even meningitis.
- Dogs and cats carry Staphylococcus in their noses and on their coats, which can be involved in antibiotic-resistant strains of staph such as MRSA.
- Periodontitis is a severe form of gum disease that affects the tissues that support teeth and hold them in place, potentially leading to tooth loss.
Catching parasites from pets
Although your pet doesn’t want to make you unwell, when caring for pets you should be aware of the potential for infection from common parasite eggs.
What kinds of pet parasites are there?
- Parasites that your pet may pick up include roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm.
- Toxoplasma gondii is also a type of parasite that is found in dogs and pets, but it particularly affects cats.
How can I catch parasites from my pet?
- Cleaning your pet’s litter trays, gardening or playing in sand pits where their faeces are present can pose a risk of Toxoplasma Gondii.
- Transmission could occur if you come into contact with sand or soil that is contaminated with infected roundworm eggs, or larvae found in dog or cat faeces.
How could pet parasites affect my health?
- Watching out for Toxoplasma Gondii is particularly important for those with compromised immune systems.
- Although relatively uncommon, damage could be caused to fetuses if pregnant women become infected with Toxoplama Gondii for the first time.
- Human roundworm infections can in severe cases cause blindness, but don’t worry - this is rare!
- Fleas can also prove to be problematic, potentially causing itchiness and skin inflammation in humans and animals. Check out our A-Z on fleas to learn more.
You can also learn more about cat parasites, dog worms, and mange in pets, and fungi such as ringworm, or take a look at our A-Z of Toxoplasma.
Sleeping with your pet
Sometimes pets will happily share a bed with you, but there are a few things to take into consideration:
- Pet owners who let their pets sleep in their bed can wake frequently during the night – especially if you have a particularly wriggly pet!
- Broken sleep patterns and poorer quality sleep can potentially have an adverse effect on your mood and powers of concentration the next day.
- Bed-sharing can also increase the chance of catching some infections from your pet.
How to prevent catching parasites or infections from pets
Although the risk of catching dog diseases and cat infections from your much-loved pet is in general very low, you can minimise most potential health problems by following a few simple steps.
- Regularly de-worm your pet and think about flea control – as well as minimising the risk of catching something, your pet will be happier too!
- Wash your hands after you play with your pet, and before you handle your own food.
- Use separate implements for human and pet food preparation.
- Try not to let your pet to come into contact with food intended for humans.
- Consider the risks of feeding your pet raw meat.
- Don’t let your pets share your bed. (Dogs and cats usually like having their own territory - and their own bed!)
- Remove your pet’s faeces from the home and garden quickly and hygienically. For example, wear gloves and always wash your hands after removing faeces.
- Take particular care when pets and young children, the very elderly or people who are immune-compromised, are together. (But still have fun!)
- Even though they like to share affection, don’t allow your pet to lick your face or any open wounds.
Although your pet has the potential to unwittingly affect your health, a few simple steps is all it takes to keep you both as safe as possible – and ready to take on the world together!