Having a pet can be a thing of joy. Whether it is a dog, cat, bird or the unconventional ones like snakes and crocodiles, most pet owners like to think of their pets as either cuddly, cute or simply good-to have-around. With a pet, you can be sure of company, attention, entertainment, and sadly, infection.
While few would like to admit that their pets can transmit diseases, which can sometimes be lethal, the fact remains that they actually can. These diseases are known as zoonotic diseases, that is, diseases that are transmissible from animals to humans.
The United States of America’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that about 75 per cent of recently emerging infectious diseases affecting humans are diseases of animal origin, and approximately 60 per cent of all human pathogens are transmitted through animals.
Though there are quite a number of diseases a pet could infect its owner or those who have constant contact with it with, Dr. Adeniyi Egbetade, a veterinary doctor at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State states that “some of the most common are tuberculosis, rabies, brucellosis, salmonellosis, anthrax, food and water-borne infections like Campylobacter, Enterobacterias but they are grossly under reported locally.”
The World Health Organisation has also reported that almost all persons infected by rabid animals will die if not treated. It was stated that an estimated number of 55, 000 persons, mainly children, die of rabies in the world every year and dogs are responsible for most human deaths.
Just like any other disease or infection, zoonotic diseases could lead to complications and subsequently death, if left untreated. Dr. Egebetade adds that “They (the diseases) may manifest as mild infections or ailments which resolve on their own at times without medical intervention, gastro-intestinal disorders, abortions, infertility, septicemic infections or death.”
According to him, “these diseases can be transmitted through bites; scratches; contact with tissue and body fluids (saliva, urine) of carrier or infected animals; occupational, environmental or cultural habits and exposures as well as consumption or during food preparation.”
Practically all animals can be zoonotic, but certain factors put pets at an increased risk. They include keeping pets in the outdoors, not vaccinating the pets, pets that are immunocompromised (a suppressed immune system), those that are poorly groomed animals and those housed in unsanitary conditions.
Though anyone who has contact with animals can get a zoonotic disease, certain people may be more at risk than others. These include people with a weakened immune system (for instance, those undergoing cancer therapy, HIV/AIDS patients, etc), infants and little children, the elderly and pregnant women.
Should this stop you from getting a pet? Absolutely not. Though it may be almost impossible to touch, cuddle or sometimes prevent a pet from licking its owner’s body or face, there are steps to prevent contracting a disease from your pet.
Daily check yourself, your kids and your pet for ticks. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. After removing the tick, immerse it in rubbing alcohol. Wash the tick bite wound and your hands with soap and water.
Supervise children to ensure that they wash their hands properly and avoid hand–to–mouth activities (thumb–sucking, eating, and use of pacifiers) after animal contact.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after contact with your pet.
Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets may have relieved themselves.
If you have been scratched or bitten by an animal, wash the area with soap and water right away and administer first aid. If you are concerned, contact your healthcare professional.
Take your pet to the veterinarian at least twice a year so problems can be detected or prevented.
Given the tendency for transmission of disease, parents might harbor some fears of getting pets for their children, but this shouldn’t be so. Fear of disease should not be the deciding factor for allowing a child own a pet. Dr. Egbetade adds that “age specificity for pet ownership is a function of parental guidance and the types of animals involved. Kids having personal pets must be tied to parental supervision. The size and demeanour of available pets, however, give ample space for choices in selection. Currently, there are no legislations stipulating the types of pets or the age at which kids can claim pet ownership in Nigeria.”