Zoonotic diseases are those parasites and diseases that can pass from animals to humans. While most might immediately think of diseases likes rabies, which our domesticated four-legged friends are vaccinated from, precautions must still be taken to protect yourself against other diseases such as roundworms or hookworms (see picture below).
“But my vet always does a fecal float each year and they always come up clean, so I shouldn’t need to worry, right?”
Not entirely. When veterinarians test for parasites through tests such as a fecal flotation, results are always noted as either positive or No Ova Seen (NOS). NOS does not necessarily mean that the animal doesn’t have parasites, only that no parasite eggs can be detected and therefore there is no evidence of parasite infestation. Additionally, even if your personal pets test clean each year, there is no way of knowing whether the outdoor cat down the street does (or any other animal that is infected with a parasite infestation).
So what steps can I take beyond keeping my pet up to date with annual shots and screenings to protect myself and my family from zoonotic diseases?
While the obvious way to get rabies is through a bite wound, most parasites are acquired through cracks in the skin, usually around the hands and feet. Regarding parasites and other diseases, follow this simple tips:
- Wear closed toe shoes when engaging in activities such as gardening or playing in a sand box. These activities, or anywhere that the ground can be easily manipulated, are amongst the most used as “litter boxes” by most outdoor animals, including outdoor cats.
- Pick up after your pet. Regardless of whether you have a fenced in yard, or walk your dog daily, picking up after your pet not only helps the environment, but eliminates the possibility that someone else will step in your dog’s mess (after all, you don’t like it when it happens to you do you?). Don’t want to do the dirty work yourself? There are several companies that will come clean your yard for a nominal fee. Click here for a listing of services available in the Tallahassee area.
- Always wash your hands after doing gardening work. While and enjoyable activity, gardening again places the gardener potentially right next to areas that outdoor animals may be using as their litter box. In addition to wearing gardening gloves, it is always advisable to scrub your hands with soap and hot water for at least twenty seconds. Using a hand sanitizer afterwards will further aid in the killing and removal of germs and bacteria
- Don’t let your pooch lick you in the mouth. While it might be cute at first, all dogs and cats are assumed to have ascarids (i.e. roundworms), especially during the first few weeks of life before dewormers have the ability to take effect. The cute slobbery kiss from your new puppy may be just the thing that a mutating parasite needs to find a new host (and can lead to behavioral issues in general if not dealt with at an early age)
For more on zoonotic diseases and how to prevent them, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention