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February 4, 2011 > Veterinary & Pet News: No Kisses for Scooby?

Veterinary & Pet News: No Kisses for Scooby?

Dr Bruno Chomel, a professor at UC Davis, reports in the February, 2011 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases that people who sleep with their pets or allow them to lick or kiss them are at higher risk of getting sick.

Pets now share our homes, our kitchens, and, in some cases, even our beds. Unfortunately, they might also be sharing some unwanted guests - worms, bacteria, and viruses! Unlike fleas and mosquitoes who sometimes give us a break during colder weather, these parasites and "bugs" can cause problems all year long.

Almost all puppies and kittens are born with roundworms, hookworms or even both. In the vast majority of cases, these worms are passed from mom to the babies either during pregnancy or during nursing after birth. Left unchecked, these tiny monsters can cause poor growth, diarrhea, vomiting, or even death in young animals.

Adult pets aren't immune to these parasites either. Pets who consume other animals' feces, eat grass, or even those who catch and eat infected rodents might end up with bloody, runny stool or vomiting caused by the worms.

But beyond their immediate effects on the animals, there is an even more sinister side to these pests. Both roundworms and hookworms are zoonotic, meaning that they can be passed to humans. Children are especially susceptible and can suffer blindness, seizures or organ dysfunction. In extreme cases, young children have lost an eye to roundworm infections.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that almost 14% of the U.S. population is infected with roundworms. That's nearly 40 million people! Why aren't more people aware of this danger?

Due to the prevalence of these worms in our pets, the Companion Animal Parasite Council has developed "strategic de-worming" protocols as a means to help protect people and pets. Starting with puppies and kittens, CAPC recommends providing a de-worming medication every 2-3 weeks from two weeks of age until 12 weeks. In addition, pet owners are urged to use monthly heartworm prevention products that contain medication to control intestinal parasites. Both dogs and cats should take these products every month, all year round!

Flea control is equally important to prevent tapeworms that can be caused by ingesting fleas by animals and people. Fleas can also transmit plague to humans. Most veterinarians in California recommend year round flea control since fleas never really die during our mild winters.

Parents should teach children to wash their hands after playing with the pets or playing in the yard where pets defecate. Since the parasite eggs are microscopic, you won't see any evidence on the kid's hands, but a thorough washing will help insure these parasites won't end up infecting your children.

It's also a good idea to check your pet's stool sample routinely. The short life cycle of these parasites means that a severe infestation can occur quickly. Also, many other parasitic worms pose some danger to our pets and these can all be found with a routine fecal sample.

Does that mean people won't sleep with their pets anymore? I don't think it will make a bit of difference to some pet lovers. "You have just as much risk of getting sick from a human," says Patty Brown. "Does that mean I won't kiss my husband because he has bacteria in his mouth? Of course I will!"

The good news is that routine preventive veterinary care can minimize and reduce risk of illness. Routine parasite screens, strategic de-worming programs, flea control, and good hygiene can minimize risks of getting transmission of diseases from animals.

Our pets are a big part of our lives and we want to share as much as we can with them. Playing it safe and following your veterinarian's guidelines for de-worming, and routine preventive care for your pets could mean that you can share a much longer, healthier life together!

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