It’s been proven that owning an animal (like a dog or a cat) can improve your health and lifestyle through companionship and exercise. It’s important to be aware of the dangers of animal ownership, and to know how to keep you and your family safe and free from sicknesses that the ‘cat may drag in’.
Illnesses that are transmittable by animals, such as household pets, are broadly called ‘Zoonotic Diseases’ – this term covers any disease or sickness that can be transmitted from an animal, to a human; the most well-known example of a zoonotic disease would be rabies (but don’t worry, Classical Rabies is not found in Australia).
Although it is possible to catch a disease from your domesticated animals, it is fairly rare, and most transmittable diseases are self-resolving within a few weeks to months, without medical treatment.
All animals and humans are susceptible to catching ‘worms’; this broad term can include different types of worms that usually infest the bowels and gastrointestinal system.
The most common type of worm caught by humans are Threadworms. These are small, white, thread-like worms that can grow up to 13mm long. Children are especially vulnerable to these, but thankfully, it's rare to catch threadworms from domestic animals.
Hookworms are small worms spread through contact with contaminated soil, sand, or the mother’s milk and colostrum. People may contract the infection if walking barefoot, kneeling, or sitting on ground contaminated with the faeces of infected animals; the larvae can enter the top layer of the skin, and cause an itchy reaction, or a red squiggly line. Symptoms usually resolve themselves within a few weeks without medical treatment.
Otherwise known as Toxocara, roundworm lives in the intestines of dogs and cats. The worm’s eggs are then passed in the animal’s faeces, and can contaminate soil where children may play, and thus become infected. Symptoms of roundworm may include a fever, cough, wheezing, and swollen lymph nodes. Whilst the symptoms may clear up by themselves, it’s advisable to contact a doctor to diagnose the worms, and prescribe appropriate treatment and medication.
Despite the name, Dog tapeworms are spread through dogs, cats, and people, through the ingestion of infected fleas. The parasite is common, but rarely causes illness. The infection presents through rice-like segments of the tapeworm crawling near the anus or faeces. Pets may also lose weight or have mild diarrhoea, but people usually don’t show signs of the disease. The best way to prevent the disease is to control the flea population in the environment.
Ringworm is a skin infection caused by different types of fungi found in soil, and can be carried on the skin of humans and pets. Humans can catch ringworm from touching infected carriers, and it usually presents as a dry, scaly, round area, with a red, raised, bumpy border, and clear centre. Ringworm can easily be treated with antifungal medicines, such as creams, shampoos, and oral medicines.
Cat-Scratch Disease can be contracted through bites, scratches, or other contact with cats, especially kittens less than 1 year old; these cats often appear healthy. The disease is more common in children than adults, primarily due to children’s tendency to have closer contact with kittens and cats in general. The disease may present through a small lump or pustule at the site of the scratch, developed over the course of a few days. Other symptoms may include a mild fever and swelling of the lymph nodes in the region of the scratch. Although the infection resolves itself during the course of a few months, and prescribed antibiotic treatment is not usually needed, those with lowered immune system disorders should seek medical assistance to be safe. The best way to prevent the disease is to avoid cat scratches and bites (don’t ‘play rough’ with cats and kittens), wash any scratches or bites immediately with soap and water, don’t allow cats to lick open wounds, and control fleas to prevent the spreading of the disease amongst other cats.
The best way to protect yourself from any form of animal-related disease is to ensure that your pet is regularly given appropriate worming and anti-flea & tick treatments and seek routine veterinary care for your furry friends. It’s always wise to make sure that everyone in your family washes their hands with soap and water after contact with animals, their food or their stools. If you’re concerned that you or a family member may have contracted a disease and would like more help, contact your regular GP. If your GP is closed and you're concerned call 13SICK, National Home Doctor on 13 7425.