Pets and people can share diseases: part two

 |  Mar 20th 2008  |   4 Contributions


Travel is a passion of mine. I find that few things enrich one's life more than experiencing different cultures, cuisines, and landscapes.

However, as a veterinarian and animal lover, I am often disturbed by the animals I see in my travels. Sadly, not every animal is loved and cared for as well as it should be.

In Nicaragua, the mange rate in dogs appears to be 100%. In Botswana, if a dog is nearby when you bend down to tie your shoe, he will run away because he assumes that you are reaching for a rock to throw at him. In parts of Vietnam, dogs are rarely seen on the streets, but frequently encountered on restaurant menus.

But what I saw recently on a trek to a remote village in northern Laos surprised me on an entirely new level. I am afraid that the lack of veterinary care for the animals in the village was directly affecting the health of the village's human inhabitants.

In the village, there were free-roaming pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, cows, and water buffalo. Also prevalent in the village were barefoot children. There was no running water. Hygienic standards were abysmal.

And I could see the effects of the poor hygiene, in both the animals and the children. The dogs and cats had distended abdomens (consistent with intestinal worms) and poor quality hair coats (consistent with mange). Both of these diseases can spread between people and animals. And I suspect that they were doing just that--several children had distended abdomens that looked remarkably like the abdomens of the cats and dogs.

And I can only imagine what other forms of disease transmission might be occurring in such an area. Hookworms were likely spreading from dogs to the barefoot children. The pigs likely contained Trichonella. The area was a perfect breeding ground for the H5N1 strain of deadly bird flu. Rabies is common.

I have said on many occasions that healthy pets pose very little risk of spreading disease to human beings. And I firmly believe that. If you take good care of your pet, there is almost no chance that he or she can make you sick.

The situation in the village I visited was an extreme one. But it reminded me nonetheless of the importance of flea preventatives, regular deworming, vaccination, proper hygiene and regular veterinary care. It's what's best for your pet, but it's also what's best for you.

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