How pet ownership can affect your health

They can be the best of company, but pets do come with associated risks.

Treat your pet with caution

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world with about 63 per cent of households having at least one pet. That means there are about 25 million pets in Australia!

So we obviously love our pets. But don’t assume they are a risk-free addition to the household.

Q. What do toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, corona, giardiasis, bartonellosis, psittacosis and lyme disease all have in common?

A. They are all illnesses you can get from pets. And there are others, but we’ll get to them later. 

Now, before you rush outside and start digging your pet’s grave, you should know that you are far more likely to catch an illness from a human than you are from a pet. 

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful. Wash your hands after touching a pet, especially one you’re not familiar with. Don’t touch animal faeces – of course – and if you do, wash your hands immediately. And if you see a dog madly licking a kid’s face, stop it because you can never assume that a dog’s saliva is harmless. 

Diseases that can be transmitted from animals and birds to humans are called zoonotic diseases and there are many of them. 

Some, such as bird flu, can be fatal. Researchers estimate that around 2.2 million people die from zoonotic diseases each year, most of the deaths in low and middle income communities. 

A lot of these diseases come from animals you aren’t likely to have running around in your suburban yard – chickens, pigs, cows, goats and camels. A number of others can come from wildlife, so be cautious about cuddling a quokka or hand-feeding a goanna. 

Of the numerous health issues that pets can create, perhaps the best known are the various worm varieties – whip, hook, tape and round – along with salmonella and rabies. 

Regular visits to the vet can give your animal the best chance possible of not contracting any of these conditions and passing them on to you, but it can happen. 

So what are the telltale signs? 

This is not a worm, and gets its name from its circular appearance on the skin. Transmitted by direct contact with animals carrying it. Ringworm is most commonly found in infants and is not an uncommon issue in crèches. Look for itching. Antifungal creams available from chemists will cure the problem, but see a doctor if it continues. 

If you see your animal scraping its bottom along the ground, it’s possible it might have tapeworm. If your dog vomits, check to see if tapeworms are visible. Tapeworm can be transmitted to humans via contact with faeces. Symptoms in humans include tiredness, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. A doctor can prescribe medicines to be taken orally, while your dog will need veterinary attention. 

Animals carrying hookworm can pass it to humans. Children are more vulnerable. Mild infection results in itchiness, while several worms can result in stomach issues, but cat and dog hookworms rarely develop to adulthood in humans. Deworm your pets regularly. 

Not common in Australia. People can become infected if they transfer faeces containing salmonella bacteria from their hands to their mouths. Symptoms include fever, diarrhoea and loss of appetite. To treat, increase intake of normal daily fluids and avoid foods high in sugars and fats. Seek medical advice if you have concerns. 

This is spread by an infected animal scratching or biting a human and, while not present in Australia, it should be noted that about 17,400 people worldwide died from rabies in 2015. Seek immediate medical attention if you are bitten or scratched by a strange animal. 

This is mainly spread to humans by eating or drinking contaminated food (mainly poultry), water or unpasteurised milk. It can also be spread via the hands of an infected people, or from contact with cats, dogs and farm animals that carry the bacteria. Symptoms include stomach cramps and fever. Rest and increased fluids are recommended treatments, and recovery may take a week or two. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics in the worst cases. 

Are you careful about washing your hands after handling pets? Have you ever caught anything from a pet? 

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    10th Apr 2018
    Cant go the kissing and face licking.
    10th Apr 2018
    Sadly Charlie licking and kissing pets, humans and inanimate objects are very effective ways to spread disease. Humans are probably more at risk from catching infections during energetic human sexual intercourse than from kissing their dog! I doubt we’ll give up sex or pet ownership in case we’ll catch something!
    Old Geezer
    10th Apr 2018
    Now you know why I say away from people with pets.
    10th Apr 2018
    We should also treat our grandchildren with caution. Children can and do spread: TB, including the newest resistant strains; Hepatitis A and B, ringworm, impetigo, all the flus, measles,mumps, chicken pox, whooping cough, Mengitis, ring worm, hook worm, tape worm; group A strep throat, infections, polio, diphtheria, slapped face syndrome etc. Nearly all the infections spread by pets and people can be prevented by basic hygiene - hand washing, changing clothes, storage of food stuff, picking up faeces etc plus immunisation.
    10th Apr 2018
    Yes, I caught viral gastro from my granddaughter, but in over 30 years have never caught anything from my dogs.
    10th Apr 2018
    Strange a lot of research says those kids who grow up with pets usually have a healthier immune system. Maybe people are not washing their pets enough or feeding them nutritious foods. Yes I always wash my hands after patting dogs, won't touch a cat or other pets. I don't have any pets either. A lot of these diseases you can get just from eating meat too. Pays to keep your immune system good.
    11th Apr 2018
    Pets = human substitute.

    Having on a number of occassions overheard people refer to their pets as "the kids", and surely I'm not the only one to have experienced that, causes some small degree of wonder.
    To be sure, a good many older folk keep a pet for company - in our little neck of the woods many keep a number (of dogs) and it wouldn't surprise me if a cat(s) and/or bird complemented their 'family' unit. Speaking of which, witness the young 'DINKS' strutting about their locale with a designer mutt, the owners kitted out in the latest fitness fanatic come private membership gym gear. Kids ? Who wants em, obviously only quadrupeds qualify for family membership - a biped, human specie nary a consideration. Far better to be controlling masters of their domesticity than to suffer the ignominious result of human reproduction. Obviously their parents weren't beasts so maybe they've overlooked how their existence came about and instead are keen to populate the world with dogs.
    Perplexing perhaps but then the big picture seems to have it otherwise - TV ads for pet insurance, regular articles in newspapers, magazines by/for veterinarians flogging their (extortionate) services; all aided and abetted by animal lovers keen to part with - in some cases - thousands of dollars.

    Not to mention the 'dog bombs' - deposited dog 'calling cards' deftly left as a means of reminder to everyone else their owners have exercised themselves, the dog(s) and their rights.

    Pets don't talk back, give little grief, have few demands, mostly eat what's on offer, require little by way of housekeeping and depending on breed, a considered status symbol.
    Maybe society is headed for domestic bliss within the confines of a dog kennel although nowadays they're a package deal complete with 4/5 bedrooms, multiple car port/garage, designer kitchen, outdoor entertainment (replete with full services) and the doggy wash/cat groomer calls regularly.

    Is life so tedious and boring ? Maybe all we need to rectify that is - another pet - hmmm, pet ? Decisions, decisions, either it's a dogs life or the tail wagging the dog.
    11th Apr 2018
    Humans just like wielding control over something. I see it all the time the way some people treat dogs especially, cat's just ignore humans and do what they want, killing birds and other wildlife. I have noticed an increase of barking in my neighborhood over the last few years and never had a cat in the neighborhood now there are quite a few and fighting at night, coming into my garden and leaving presents for me, how nice. I really think it is out of control this pet business. Don't get me wrong I love animals, I just think some people need a license to keep them. I am sick of pushing the dog poo off the track I walk and so do many elderly from the old peoples home.

    11th Apr 2018
    yep - pets bring filth into the house

    bad enough dealing with their crap outdoors

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