Last week’s blog was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Got one in mind yet? Read below first, about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them.
If there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema, find out if your children are allergic to the particular pet before you commit. Allergy testing for cats and dogs is readily available, just ask your pediatrician.
Arrange a play date with the same type of animal and look for sneezing, red eyes, and itchiness afterward. If you are considering a particular dog, visit with that dog because allergens vary greatly from dog to dog. Even less allergy-inducing breeds like Poodles or Portuguese Water Dogs named Bo can actually trigger allergy symptoms in some children. Kids can be allergic to the saliva and skin flakes as well as the fur.
If you already have a pet that your children are allergic to, keep that pet out of their bedrooms, damp dust and vacuum frequently, and wash the pet weekly. Additionally, air filters will capture a significant portion of allergens.
Most germs prefer to attack the host they have evolved to infect. It is most common for the germs to stay with their preferred host, so you are much more likely to get sick going to the store or daycare where other humans hang out than you are petting your dog. Taking that as given, there are some illnesses that pets can give to humans.
- Even fish, isolated as they are, can cause problems. They can raise the humidity in your house and make life happier for molds and dust mites.
- Turtles can carry salmonella, which will cause diarrhea. Kids need to be good at washing their hands if they have a turtle, and the turtle needs to be kept far from the kitchen. No bathing that turtle in the kitchen sink!
- Birds can carry salmonella. Interestingly, salmonella is becoming a much more common problem now that people are keeping back yard chickens. Wash those hands after handling the birds or changing their food and water! Birds can also carry Chlamydophila psittaci, which causes psittacosis, a rare kind of pneumonia. I’ve been looking for a case for decades without success.
- Cats and dogs can both bring in fleas and ticks, and can harbor ringworm (a fungus) on the skin. Both can be prevented with basic pet care.
- Cats can carry toxoplasma, which can cause birth defects in human infants if Mom catches it while she is pregnant. Obstetricians always warn pregnant women not to clean out kitty litter boxes. I personally had no problem letting my husband clean the litter box.
- Kittens can carry Bartonellosis in their claws, which can cause the fairly rare “cat scratch fever,” or infected lymph nodes. That one I have seen a few times. Grown-up cats don’t carry it, thankfully.
- Cats also carry Pasturella in their mouths, and cat bites can occasionally become infected.
- Most of the bacteria, worms, and parasites that dogs can become infected with are self-limiting in humans. Our immune systems throw them out without diffculty. People who have poor immune systems (small children, the elderly, kids on chemotherapy, or those whose immune systems don’t work well) can be less tolerant, and we do occasionally see problems in otherwise healthy children.
- There are a few uncommon infections from dogs and cats that they can share. Toxocara cani (or cati, in cats) is a roundworm that rarely infects humans, but it is ugly when it does, causing problems with eyes, hearts, and livers, including blindness and death. It can also be caught from dirt as a soil contaminant. Puppies can carry cryptosporidium, a protozoan that can cause diarrhea. Leptospira (a spirochete bacteria) can cause damage to the liver, spleen, and kidneys when water is contaminated.
The solution to avoiding most of these diseases is to keep your pet healthy, use flea and tick preventative, and give monthly heartworm pills.
Also, don’t let them drink contaminated water.
Since dogs are the most popular pets, and cats sort of train themselves, next week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be joy to have in the family, rather than a shoe-chewing brat.