Friday, March 18, 2011

Get Ready Mailbag: Can my pets make me sick?

Welcome to another installment of the Get Ready Mailbag, when we take time to answer questions sent our way by readers like you. Have a question you want answered? Send an e-mail to

Q: I am the lucky owner of Douglas and Evie, and world’s sweetest dog and cat. They are very dear to me and I love them like crazy. But sometimes I wonder, can my pets make me sick?

A: Being a pet owner can be so rewarding, and you’re not alone in your love for them. And studies have shown that owning pets can make people happier and healthier. A National Institutes of Health study of people who’d suffered heart attacks showed that dog owners were more likely than their non-dog owner counterparts to still be alive one year later.

But kisses and happiness aren’t all your pets can give you. Cats, dogs, small mammals and even reptiles can carry bacteria and parasites that can make humans ill.

Rabies is probably the best-known disease that can be transmitted from animals to people. Dogs and cats can be infected with rabies if they’re bitten by a wild animal, such as a raccoon, and can then infect humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keeping pets up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations will help prevent the spread of the disease, CDC says.

Other diseases that can be transferred from animals to people include Lyme disease, which can be transmitted by a tick that a dog may carry in from outside, and several types of worms, which can be present in dog and cat feces.

Pregnant women who own cats need to be especially careful about toxoplasmosis, a disease that can affect fetuses and cause serious problems, including miscarriage. CDC advises pregnant women not to handle cat litter and, if possible, to have another person clean out the cat’s litter box just to be safe. Another tip? Keep your cat inside. Cats that go outdoors and eat mice or other small animals are more likely to catch the disease.

Finally, while dogs and cats might be among the most popular pets, they’re not the only animals we keep in our homes, nor are they the only ones that can harbor disease. Parrots and parakeets can carry a bacteria that can cause psittacosis, which can be inhaled when bird droppings enter the air. If you have a bird, keep an eye out for symptoms, which can include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a dry cough.

And small reptiles such as lizards, snakes and turtles often have salmonella bacteria on their skin. CDC advises that people wash their hands well after coming in contact with reptiles.

Pets bring great joy into our lives. By taking some basic steps to keep your animals healthy, you’ll also be helping protect yourself.

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