Family health and having a pet - Osler Health International

Family health and having a pet

By: Dr Valerie Druon
Posted on: 12 Sep 2021

Pet ownership in Singapore has increased enormously over the pandemic.

In general, this is a good thing as pet ownership is known to have a positive affect on our health. Children who have been brought up with pets display a stronger immune system. Pets can lower mental and physical stress, help with depression, reduce heart rate, blood pressure, and even cholesterol. Research even indicates that patients recover better from their heart attacks if they own a dog or a cat.  Dog owners are found to have healthier weight due to increase physical activity. Many hospitals and nursing homes around the world use “animal- assisted therapy” to boost morale and bring feelings of joy and happiness amongst the sick and elderly.

However, our furry friends can deliver more than positive vivbes!

Some common conditions caused by house pets:

  1. Allergies
    manifested by itchy eyes, nose, throat, sneezing, asthma symptoms, skin rashes – from animal dander or fur from cats, dogs, rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs.
  2. Ringworm
    a persisting fungal rash – your furry pet can carry Microsporumor Trichophyton species which in turn can be the cause of your fungal skin infection.
  3. Intestinal worms  
    roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms from cats and dogs can be passed on to humans particularly young children. Kittens and puppies can be infected from their mother’s milk when suckling. Infection can be spread from soil, pet waste or when eating uncooked meat or offal. Many vets recommend treating your adult pets every three months as prevention.
  4. Diarrhea
    due to campylobacter and salmonella – these two bacteria can live in the digestive tract of infected cats, dogs, hamsters, birds and other animals. You may come in contact through contaminated water, uncooked food, unpasteurised milk or faeces. Reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes) and amphibians (frogs, toads) can shed salmonella through their faeces contaminating their skin infecting human if touched.
  5. Cat scratch disease 
    some infected cats or kitten may be carrying bacteria called Bartonella in their saliva. You may develop cat scratch disease from their bite or scratch. Human symptoms include fever, swollen glands, tiredness, headaches that may need antibiotics if the infection is severe. There are no long-term complications from the disease, but it is best to avoid it if you can.
  6. Rabies
    rabies is vaccine preventable viral disease prominent in developing countries causing a high mortality rate. Fortunately, rabies is rare in Singapore. Children are the most vulnerable group accounting for 40% of rabid bites. Immediate and thorough washing of the bite site with soap and water is crucial and can save lives. There are preventative vaccines for your pet and your family members. Once travel resumes, consider a rabies vaccine for adults and children.
  7. Toxoplasmosis
    infection is mainly contracted through contact with cat faeces. It can also occur through eating contaminated undercooked meat, shellfish, contaminated water, soil, contaminated knives, utensils, shopping boards. Symptoms are mild in healthy people but however can cause miscarriages in pregnant women. Pregnant women should avoid all contact with litter boxes.
  8. Infected dog and cat bites
    beware of bites particularly on the face and hands. Some bites can become infected and will need prompt antibiotics, especially when bites have penetrated deep tissue, tendons, muscles on the hands, feet and face.
  9. Psittacosis / cryptococcosis
    from inhaled bird dropping when cleaning cages. This can cause respiratory infection in healthy people and particularly in immunosuppressed individual. These conditions can be treated with antibiotics.
  10. Fleas and ticks
    your outdoor pet can be carrying fleas or ticks home. Fleas generally live on pets, carpets and bedding. Cat fleas usually bite on hands and feet and are most itchy when the flea feeds on you. They are small dark spots with a small red area on your skin. The Brown Dog Tick is the commonest ticks in Singapore. Once on the skin, tick can be removed by drowning it in alcohol solution and carefully removing it with a tweezer. Your family doctor can also remove ticks with liquid nitrogen.

Prevention

  • Wash and brush your pets regularly
  • Wash hands after touching your pets and before eating
  • Wash any wounds thoroughly and seek medical help early
  • Avoid kissing your pet with your mouth
  • Don’t share food with your pet
  • Clean and vacuum carpets, pet bedding and living areas regularly
  • Keep the waste area clean
  • Keep pets away from the kitchen, and don’t bath your pet or clean aquarium in the kitchen sink or bathtub
  • Pregnant women should avoid eating undercooked meat, unpasteurised food and contact with litter
  • Keep your kitchen utensils and use separate chopping boards for meat and other food
  • Avoid sick animals and be cautious amongst strange animals
  • Children and particularly young children will need to be watched carefully in the presence of animals
  • Have your pet vaccinated and treated regularly
  • People who are unwell with chronic disease and compromised immune system should avoid cleaning their pets/pet waste areas

If you are concerned about any of the above including bites, ticks or rashes please visit your GP.

Dr Valerie Druon is a French speaking Australian family doctor based at Osler Health Star Vista. For appointments please call: 6339 2727