Sleeping With Your Pet/ Health Risks?
January 30, 2011
You may have seen the headlines. “Vet Advises No Pets in Bed” (NBC) or “Sleeping with pet might be health risk” (ABC). These came out after the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine shared results of a study on the matter with USA Today. These articles suggest that you can get plague, chagas disease and cat-scratch fever by sharing your bed with a pet.
Judging from the statements made in these articles and the fact that about 50% of my patients share a bed with their owner , I would expect a lot more cases of plague and chagas disease in the Charleston area. So why aren’t we all sick?
There are more than 100 zoonotic diseases that can be passed from our pets to humans and the authors of the study pointed out a couple of specific cases. One man developed meningitis after his dog, whom he slept with, licked his hip-replacement wound. A young boy developed plague after sleeping with his cat. So, there obviously is concern about transmission of disease from pets to humans, but it might not be as bad as it sounds.
Most of these 100 or so diseases can be kept at bay with good preventive veterinary care and common sense hygiene tips. For example, diseases like plague and cat-scratch fever are connected with fleas. If the young boy’s cat had not had fleas, he wouldn’t have gotten sick. So, keep your pet’s flea free with the help of your veterinarian, and you shouldn’t have to worry about those diseases.
Other diseases that are commonly shared with people are hookworms and roundworms. These worms are carried by almost all puppies and kittens and it is estimated that about 10,000 people in the US contract roundworms each year. Roundworms are the parasites that migrate to the back of the human eye and cause vision loss. In pets, they cause no symptoms or diarrhea. You can keep your pets free of roundworms and hookworms by simply following the strategic de-worming programs dictated by your veterinarian and the Center for Disease Control. Monthly heartworm preventatives for both cats and dogs double as preventatives for hookworms and roundworms that continue for the life of a well-cared- for pet.
Other things you can do to keep your pet free of zoonotic diseases include picking up your pet’s stool so that it doesn’t contaminate your yard and good hygiene practices like washing your hands after playing with your pet. Regular bathing and grooming of pets keeps them clean and less likely to share bacteria with you. Keeping your pet and his environment clean, goes a long way.
But, let’s face it, some people are going to be more susceptible to diseases. Cancer patients, AIDS patients, the elderly and the very young often have suppressed immune systems. These individuals can ensure their own health by keeping their pets as healthy as possible but they may need to take extra precautions which may or may not include banning their pet from their bed.
Bottom line, there is a risk of catching something from your pet. However, the risk can be minimized and even removed altogether by following your veterinarian’s recommendations and practicing good hygiene. Don’t let media hype keep you from enjoying your pet’s unconditional love.