Fort Worth, Texas,
18
May
2015
|
10:33 PM
America/Chicago

How your family pet can make you sick

The Doc Smitty gives a list of pets and the diseases they can transmit

When your dad’s The Doc Smitty, you don’t get to keep the turtle that wanders into your pool (see photo to the right).

Here's why:

There has been an outbreak of severe flu among dogs in the Midwest. Cases of the H3N2 strain have now been seen in dogs in Texas.

Most dogs have cough, runny nose and fever, but it has been severe and resulted in death in some.

So you may be wondering, “Is my child at risk if our dog has this flu?”

The answer, according to the CDC:

“To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza viruses from dogs to people and there has not been a single reported case of human infection with a canine influenza virus.”

That’s fortunate, but what are some health dangers associated with pets?

 

Bites

I’ve seen too many severe dog bites in my training to not mention bites first. The most common statement I hear about the dogs who bite is, “We just never thought he/she would do that.”

Dogs can be a great addition to a family but use caution:

  • Be careful of rough play. Even a playful snip can be dangerous if it happens near the eye or a fingertip.
  • Stay away from dogs when they are likely to be defensive: when they are eating, sleeping or taking care of puppies.
  • Stay away from unfamiliar dogs or dogs that seems scared or anxious.

Here are some more tips from the ASPCA on how to avoid dog bites.

Allergies/Asthma

This is actually one of the most common questions I get regarding animals. It’s very intuitive. People can be allergic to dogs and cats, so wouldn’t owning one increase my child’s risk for allergies?

I have seen several studies that suggest the exact opposite. Often by having animals in the house early, kids may have slightly decreased risk of developing allergies. That said, if your child has frequent allergy and asthma symptoms, it may be reasonable to attempt to isolate the animal from the child for a bit to see if symptoms improve.

Infections

Infectious diseases are transmitted through animals frequently; think about the number of diseases that tics and mosquitoes can carry. Although it can happen, they are less frequently transmitted from pets.

Here is a list of pets and some of the diseases they can transmit:

Cats

Cat-scratch fever:

This disease is caused by bacterial infection (Bartonella) of an open wound or a bite that results in the breaking of skin. It is more commonly transmitted by kittens than older cats. Symptoms of the infection in humans are fever, headache and fatigue. There is often a large and tender lymph node near the site of the bite.

Toxoplasma:

Toxoplasma is usually a foodborne illness, but can be transmitted from cat feces. In people with normal immune systems, there are often no symptoms of toxoplasmosis. Pregnant women (and fetuses) are especially susceptible and, for that reason, should not handle cat litter boxes.

Dogs

Hookworms:

Dogs infected with hookworms can have bloody stools; which in severe cases can lead to anemia. Humans are infected by walking barefoot on contaminated soil and develop an interesting rash which consists of red, squiggly lines where the larvae have migrated under the skin.

Reptiles

Salmonella:

Salmonella is one of the most common pet-associated infections. It is estimated that 70,000 people will contract salmonella from pet reptiles. Salmonella generally causes bloody stools but in children and in people with weakened immune systems can be serious. The CDC recommends that houses with children less than 5 and with any household members with weakened immune systems not own reptiles as pets.

Many Animals

Campylobacter:

Ingesting food contaminated with the bacteria transmits most infections of campylobacter, but cases can occur from the handling of dog or cat feces. The main symptom of campylobacter infections is diarrhea (which can be bloody) and usually lasts about one week.

Ringworm:

The fungus that causes can be transmitted from many different animals but most commonly occurs from puppies and kittens. The appearance of the rash on human skin is a circular rash with a raised edge. It can be difficult to distinguish from eczema which sometimes causes circular patches as well.

Pets can be great additions to your family and, in most cases, will not cause any harm to your children. Be aware of the specific risks associated with certain types of pets and take caution to protect your children when appropriate.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . View more from The Doc Smitty at his Facebook page.He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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