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What are zoonotic diseases? How can I protect my family and my pet?

What are zoonotic diseases? How can I protect my family and my pet? dr anderson dogOwning a pet can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for you and your family. However, pets can transmit diseases- called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses (pronounced zoo-no-ses)—which may be harmful to humans-especially young children and people with certain medical conditions.


Zoonotic diseases that affect people

Cat scratch disease – Also known as “cat scratch fever,” this flea-borne infection is typically transmitted from a cat’s scratch or bite. Signs include pimples at the scratch site and swollen lymph nodes that may persist for six weeks or longer.

Ehrlichiosis – Transmitted by ticks, this bacterial disease can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and other, more serious symptoms. As many as half of all patients require hospitalization.

Giardia – People become infected when they drink water containing the parasite Giardia lamblia. You can also become infected by putting something in your mouth that has come into contact with a pet’s stool. Signs include diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.

Leptospirosis – “Lepto” is a bacterial disease spread by contact with urine from an infected animal, including dogs, raccoons, squirrels and skunks. Lepto can cause high fever, severe headache, vomiting and, if left untreated, kidney damage or liver failure.

Lyme disease – Spread by ticks, Lyme disease can cause arthritis and kidney damage. The number of Lyme disease cases has nearly tripled since 1990, and the disease is now found in virtually every state.

Rabies – This well-known disease is caused by a virus found in the saliva of infected animals and transmitted to people by bites. It is invariably fatal if not promptly treated.

Ringworm – Ringworm is a fungal infection – not a worm – transmitted by contact with the skin or fur of an infected dog or cat. Signs include a bald patch of scaly skin on the scalp, or a ring-shaped, itchy rash on the skin.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever – A very serious, tick-borne disease that causes fever, headache and muscle pain, followed by a rash. May be fatal if left untreated.

Toxoplasmosis – This is a parasitic disease spread by contact with cat feces in soil or litter, although the major route of transmission is contaminated meat. It can cause serious health problems in pregnant women or in people with compromised immune systems.

Simple ways to protect your family.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching, playing with or caring for pets.
  • Never touch the stool of any animal without wearing disposable gloves.
  • Do not kiss your pet or let your pet lick your face.
  • Do daily “tick checks” on yourself, your kids and your pet. If you find a tick, use tweezers to slowly pull it out. Immerse the tick in rubbing alcohol, apply antiseptic to the bitten area and wash your hands.
  • If you are pregnant, ask someone else in the family to clean the cat’s litter box. If you must do it yourself, wear gloves and immediately wash your hands after changing the litter.
  • Wash your hands after gardening or working in soil where pets may have relieved themselves.
  • If you are scratched or bitten, wash the area with soap and water right away and contact your physician.

Proven ways to protect your pet.

What are zoonotic diseases? How can I protect my family and my pet? drsimon 2012Many zoonotic diseases can be prevented by vaccination. Vaccines are now available to protect against leptospirosis, Lyme disease, rabies and giardia. In addition, twice-a-year wellness exams performed by your veterinarian can help detect and treat zoonotic infections before they become serious, or are transmitted to other pets or people in your household.

Don’t forget to take these other steps to protect your pet:

  • Ask your veterinarian about tick and flea control
  • Brush and inspect your pet for ticks after each outing
  • Do not let your pet drink from standing water outdoors
  • Do not let your pet come into contact with feces or urine of other animals
  • Remove food, garbage or nesting materials that may attract wildlife

For more information about zoonotic disease protection for your family – and your pet – contact any of our locations.

Some info courtesy of the Fort Dodge Animal Health
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