Dogs and cats can carry many diseases, some of which may be easily transmitted to their owners. Care, hygiene and common sense are vital when handling pets.
Dogs may be man’s best friends and cats are lovable and playful, but there are hidden risks for the unwary owner. The amount of disease that may be transmitted by ordinary domestic pets, irrespective of how nice and clean and healthy they seem, is alarming.
There are about 257 diseases of domestic animals affecting man. However, with care and common sense, the risks can be reduced. By deworming dogs and cats at adequate intervals, and by the maintenance of common sense hygiene, for practical purposes all serious risks from pets can be eliminated.
Elimination of risks is feasible and practical. Children should be taught that, just as they refrain from pushing their hands into a moving sewing machine or a live electric radiator, so they do not fondle dogs without washing their hands (soap and water) prior to subsequent eating.
Nor do they kiss budgerigars, dogs or pets, nor put their mouths on the pet’s coat. Pets are kept happily (good quarters) in their place outside the house. If inside, they must be subject to really rigorous deworming and housetraining hygiene.
Here are a few of the more important household pet diseases which may be transmitted to humans:
Hydatids: This is a deadly cystic condition of the lung, liver, brain or other organ in your child (or you).
It comes from a small tapeworm called Echinococcus granulosus which lives in the dog’s intestine and can produce untold millions of eggs. These are excreted during the dog’s normal bowel actions and can lie on the ground or be on the dog’s coat.
The eggs can be readily transferred to the mouth by a child stroking the dog and then, without thinking, placing the hands into his mouth or touching food later eaten.
These eggs can travel to many parts of the body and slowly develop into cysts which increase in size. They may be located in the lung, liver, or other body organs, including the brain. They may be deadly, and can kill.
Normally, they carry on their life cycle by producing the hydatid cyst in sheep. The dog becomes infected in turn by eating the infected sheep liver or lung. Occasionally other animals are affected, too. such as cattle, pigs and horses.
In rural areas the incidence of infected dogs is high. In the city it is much lower.
Dogs may be treated to prevent infection, and this can be readily arranged via the vet. However, strict hygiene at all times is a very good idea. Preventing dogs from eating potentially infected offal is also wise.
In short, if dogs are effectively dewormed and kept outside, and children wash their hands after touching, and general cleanliness observed . . . there is little danger.
However, how many parents carefully check that these vital procedures are carried out at all times? The answer, no doubt, is very few.
Roundworms: These are important. For practical purposes, consider all dogs are infected with roundworms.
The roundworm eggs are passed in the dog’s faeces. They are also passed in the bitch’s milk and enter the puppy before it is born by penetrating the wall of the womb. As a result of this, puppies may pass droppings containing roundworm eggs when a mere 19 days old.
If the animals are allowed into the house, the sticky eggs may adhere to floor coverings, toys, domestic objects, furniture. Some small children eat dirt. If this happens to include infected droppings, the child may unwittingly get a massive roundworm infection.
If a dog swallows the eggs, the worm continues its normal life cycle. But inside a human it wanders from organ to organ producing a host of medical problems.
The disease is called visceral larva migrans and can cause serious lesions, most commonly in the lungs and liver. Sometimes it may also affect the heart, kidneys, brain and spinal cord, diaphragm and muscles. Blindness in children has been reported.
An infected puppy may pass as many as 150,000 eggs per gram of faecal material daily and infect an enormous part of the environment. A vet should be consulted for the best method of treatment.
Hookworms: These occur in about one third of the dogs. There are several different types.
Humans may be infected by mouth or via the skin. The hookworms can penetrate the skin, causing severe itching on the skin of the hands, feet and buttocks.
Strict hygiene is essential and treatment of potentially infected pets vital.
Roundworms and hookworms may be a grave danger unless adequate veterinary deworming is implemented.
Cats may also carry many diseases. But since they are cleaner (burying their faeces), contamination is not so likely. Yet they can harbor many worms which can affect nearly all organs of the system.
Cats may also transmit a disease called toxoplasmosis. which can be serious in women in early pregnancy and affect the infant.
Many people are infected, most without knowing it. Headaches, fatigue, a mild fever, tender spleen and a rash often may be the only symptoms.
Advice: “Get rid of the family cat during the early stages of pregnancy. Women should not contact cat litter or sandbox or handle garden soil unless wearing gloves.”