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Can My Pet Make Me Sick?

By Dr Katrina Warren on October 13, 2011 in Other

In Australia we are very lucky because aren’t many serious diseases that we can catch from our dogs and cats, but there are a few of concern. Pet owners should be particularly aware of toxoplasmosis, ringworm and roundworm, though all of these are preventable with good hygiene techniques and regular worming.

Toxoplasmosis

Pregnant women who own cats are sent into a panic when they hear the word ‘toxoplasmosis’. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding the disease and hundreds of cats are surrendered each year because their owners become pregnant and are worried they are putting their unborn baby at risk.

Toxoplasmosis results from an infection by a parasite called ‘Toxoplasma gondii’, which infects warm-blooded animals including humans. Many people will have already come into contact with this parasite without knowing it, and will have built up immunity. It can, however, cause serious disease in unborn babies. Fortunately this is rare, but pregnant women should follow simple precautions to minimise the risk of infection.

You can get toxoplasmosis by eating contaminated raw or partly cooked meat, consuming contaminated drinking water or coming into contact with contaminated cat faeces.

You are at much greater risk of getting toxoplasmosis from the consumption of inadequately prepared and under cooked foods than from your cat. To reduce you risk of infection, avoid feeding your cat raw meat. Always wash hands thoroughly prior to preparing food, wear disposable gloves, wash utensils/boards that have come into contact with uncooked foods and cook all meat thoroughly.

If you are pregnant and have to clean the litter tray or you’re gardening (where stray cats often eliminate), always wear gloves. Clean and disinfect the litter tray daily and always wash your hands thoroughly.

Ringworm

Contrary to popular belief, ringworm is not actually a worm but a fungal infection of the skin. It is highly contagious and can spread from animals to humans, presenting with the classic red, ‘worm-like’ lesion. It can spread through direct contact with an infected animal or through mediums like infected bedding or carpet. Young children, the elderly and people whose immune function is compromised for any reason are most susceptible to the infection.

In many cases ringworm resolves itself but you may need topical medication. In severe cases oral medication may be necessary,

If your pet has been infected with ringworm, it is important to thoroughly disinfect your home to rid the environment of any remaining fungal spores after treatment.

To prevent infection, be sure to thoroughly wash hands after handling pets, particularly puppies and kittens and avoid contact with infected animals.

Roundworm

Dogs and cats often carry roundworms in their intestines and humans can be infected by accidentally ingesting the eggs, which are passed in the faeces. The eggs hatch in the digestive tract and the larvae travel to various organs.

Children are particularly susceptible to roundworms as they often play in areas that may be contaminated with faeces, such as the backyard or sandpits.

Mild infections may be asymptomatic but more serious infections can cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Occasionally the larvae get trapped in blood vessels behind the eye and cause loss of sight. This is rare but very serious.

It is important to worm your pet regularly with an ‘all-wormer’ and dispose of faeces as quickly as possible. Teach kids to wash their hands after handling pets and don’t allow pets to lick your child’s face.

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