Is Your Pet Helping or Hurting Your Health?

Is your pet helping you stay healthy or is it making you sick? The benefits of owning a pet for both physically and mentally ill people has long been touted by the medical community. However, new studies suggest that the dog or cat you consider part of your family may be making you ill. In their February issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that even pets that appear to be healthy can infect their owners with mild or even life-threatening diseases.

According to the CDC, about 75% of newly emerging infectious diseases that affect humans originates from animals. Additionally, 60% of all human diseases are zoonotic, meaning the infections are transmitted between animals and people. More than half of all pet owners, about 55%, allow their pets to sleep in bed with them. The study admits that the risk of getting a disease from your pet is low compared to the number of people who sleep with their pets. Children younger than five and people with compromised immune systems have the greatest risk of catching a disease from their pet.

Furthermore, the study determined that catching a disease from a cat was far more common than catching a disease from a dog and that diseases transmitted by cats were frequently more serious. One reason more people are infected by cats than dogs is because more people own cats. Also, more cat owners reported they slept with their pets than people who owned dogs.

There are documented cases of hookworm, ringworm, roundworm, drug-resistant staph infections, and cat scratch disease that were transmitted to people who allowed their pets to kiss, lick, or sleep with them. In fact, the CDC estimates that 20,000 people each year get cat scratch disease, a bacterial infection which can cause swollen lymph nodes and damage to the liver, kidney, and spleen in humans.

While Dr. Peter Rabinowitz from the Yale School of Medicine agrees that it is possible to get sick from your pet, he states the benefits of pet ownership far outweigh the risks. Pets can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol, and has positive psychological effects because pets provide comfort and companionship. Pet owners also benefit from increased physical activity. More than 30 years of medical studies have proven that cardiac patients and the elderly benefit from having a pet.

The risks of getting sick from your pet can be easily mitigated by keeping your pet free of fleas and ticks, performing routine de-worming, and ensuring regular veterinarian examinations. Practicing good hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water after handling pets is another way to prevent illness. Following this simple advice can prevent both you and your pets from getting sick.

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