It is estimated that around half of the households in the UK have a pet. There are more than 7 million dogs alone, many nationalities, including the British love their pets. They are very much part of our family and the health benefits we enjoy as a result are well known. It is proven that pet owners have lower stress levels. An extensive study conducted in 2012 identified that children living in homes with a dog have considerably less respiratory problems and ear infections than others. There are risks however, particularly for children, so it is important that we understand them and take the necessary precautions.
The main issues are allergies and the transfer of diseases and infections. Animal allergens are transferred from the coat, saliva, skin and urine of our pets. Such allergens can trigger allergic reactions at any stage in life although allergies usually start in childhood.
It is not advisable to sleep with your animals, allocating pet free zones particularly bedrooms is strongly recommended. Rigorous hand washing after handling pets is important especially before eating. Regular washing of pet bedding will assist as will hard floors as an alternative to carpets.
The infections that can be passed to us are viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal in origin. To be at risk of infection you need to be in close contact with the animal. On a basic level this is as simple as stroking their fur and not washing your hands. Touching faeces, being bitten or scratched and allowing cross contamination from food bowls are critical risk areas.
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin; sufferers generally work with animals and therefore have high exposure levels.
Toxocariasis is an infection caused by worms in both dogs and cats, transfer only occurs with direct faecal contact. Similarly toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite found in cat faeces.
Pathogens such as salmonella can also be carried and therefore transferred from an animal mouth, fur and paws.
Professor Paul Dawson of Clemson University (USA) conducted a detailed study in 2006 that involved contaminating surfaces with salmonella. The salmonella pathogen was deliberately placed on ceramic floor tiles, wooden floors and nylon carpet. Microbe tests showed that levels of salmonella were in fact still present on these surfaces 28 days after contamination! The test environment was dry, bacteria however survives for longer in damp and moist conditions. It is clear that any such bacteria brought in by our pets will survive for a long time in our homes.
Not touching our beloved pets is plainly not an option so what can we do to minimise the health risks?
• Ensure that all pets are constantly inoculated and wormed
• Implement a flea protection regime
• Make sure hands are thoroughly washed after touching pets and their feed bowls.
• Get into the habit of not touching animals and then touching your face
• Pick up animal faeces promptly and wear gloves.
• Wash animal bedding regularly
• Keep pets off food preparation surfaces and table tops
• Use anti-bacterial products on work surfaces and tables
• Clean floors with disinfectant
• Don’t let animals eat from your plates and keep their food bowls separately
• Vacuum carpets regularly, vacuum up to the edges and underneath furniture
• If carpets and upholstery are regularly used by pets consider a deep clean using an extraction method.
Pets enrich our lives, it is inconceivable to many that they become absent from our lives. After all we domesticated them; they quickly became ideal partners for humans. The roles they play in our lives are wide and varied; from a blind dog to a lap dog for a lonely old person they bring us love, joy and devotion every day.
Bio – Written by Karen James, Mother, Grandmother, dog lover and prolific writer for health and
cleaning service companies across the UK
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