ESCANABA - While many pet owners consider a dog or cat their best friend, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns against getting too up close and personal with pets. In fact, the report found that those who allow pets to share their bed, lick or kiss them are potentially exposing themselves to a wide range of diseases.
These diseases, referred to as "zoonotic" diseases, are transmitted between, or shared by, animals and humans. They range from diseases as serious as the bubonic plague to those less severe, like rabies, and more common parasitic infections such as hookworms and roundworms.
According to a 2009-10 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Associations (APPA), 62 percent of households now own a pet. Of this percentage, 62 percent of small dog owners allowed the animal to share their bed. This number decreased with size, as 41 percent of medium-sized and 32 percent of large dogs slept with their owners. Sixty-two percent of cat owners said the cat slept in their bed, while 13 percent allowed the cat to sleep with their children.
While it may seem far-fetched, the CDC report outlines a case study conducted in western U.S. between 1974 and 1988, revealing 23 cases of the plague related to cat exposure. These cases, believed to have been caused by infected fleas carried by cats, were thought to have originated in a bed owners shared with the infected animal.
Beside cats, plague cases were also linked to dogs, which, according to researchers of the study, was even more disturbing because dogs rarely show clinical signs of infection that could warn pet owners.
According to report author Bruno B. Chomel, DVM, PhD, more and more households have pets, and many owners consider pets a part of their extended family. While owning a pet can have many benefits, Chomel warns that owners should remain wary.
"Having pets brings many benefits, such as psychological support, friendship, and even good health practices," he wrote. "Sharing our resting hours with our pets may be a source of psychological comfort, but because pets can bring a wide range of zoonotic pathogens into our environment, sharing is also associated with risks."
While Chomel said acquiring a zoonotic infection via bed-sharing remains uncommon, it still remains a risk - as does kissing or being licked by pets.
His recommendations to avoid any potential exposure to zoonotic disease include:
Discouraging young children or immunocompromised persons from sharing their bed or regularly kissing their pets
Immediately washing, with soap and water, any area licked by a pet, especially for children or immunocompromised persons or an open wound
Keeping pets free from ectoparasites (parasites living on the skin - especially fleas)
Routinely de-worming pets
Regular examinations by a veterinarian
"Although uncommon with healthy pets, the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real and has even been documented for life-threatening infections such as plague," said Chomel. "To reduce such risks, pet owners should seek regular veterinary care for their pets."