Our world is changing before our eyes. Animals are filling a larger role in our lives. In many cases they travel wherever we go. They share our lives and we care for them as family members. As I am fond of saying, “In the last 30 years they have moved out of the backyard, into our houses, onto our furniture, and even into our beds with ever growing regularity”. I am at the stage in my life that small children are kicking me out of bed. I understand completely when one of you is being kicked out of your beds by a four legged friend.
With this phenomenon come some inherent health concerns for us as humans. Our dogs and cats do not wear shoes to cover their feet. They do not wash their hands before they eat. They put everything directly into their mouths. Sometimes they even eat dirt, bugs, birds, mice, and even poop. They dig in the dirt. They walk in the litter box. This is how they become exposed to and acquire parasites. Then they come into our beds, climb on our couches, counters, and tables. This is how they put us at risk for parasites.
My goal is not to scare you so you are afraid to have a wonderful four-legged friend in your house. My goal is to educate you so that you take the appropriate precautions to be sure that no one gets sick. Remember when you mother said “don’t chew your fingernails” and “don’t go outside barefoot”. There were reasons for this. Dirt under the fingernails can contain parasites. Hookworms in the soil enter the body by penetrating the soles of the feet. We know that approximately 10% of our patients at Hergenrether Animal Hospital test positive for intestinal parasites. I heard a staggering statistic that 15% of all potting soil contains hookworms. Bugs like crickets carry larval stages of parasites. Mice and birds can carry tapeworms. Has your pet ever eaten a bug? What about a mouse or bird? It happens.
So what are you to do? You love your pet and you want to share your lives with them. First be aware of the reasons for concern. Second, take simple health precautions such as washing your hands after handling your friend and before you eat. Don’t let them lick you on the mouth and face. Exercise caution with allowing them into your bed. Certainly try to keep them off your tables and counters. Finally, screening and prevention is always the key. Keep them on a monthly dewormer and anti-parasitic such as Heartgard and Revolution. Have their fecal tested for parasites at least every 6 months. These steps allow for proactive management of the situation.