First, I’d like to answer a question that may already be on your mind: What exactly is a zoonotic disease? A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be spread from animals to humans. In other words, there are certain diseases that your pet may be able to transmit to you. The purpose of this article is not to scare you off from owning a pet or to limit the special bond you share with your pet. Rather, it is to educate you and let you know how these diseases can be prevented. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is especially true in veterinary medicine.
Disease in the dog and cat
One of the most common parasites that affect dogs and cats, especially puppies and kittens, are roundworms. Roundworm larvae can be passed from the bitch or queen to the fetus while still in utero, so many puppies and kittens are born with the parasite. Pets like micro pig can also ingest roundworm eggs from a contaminated environment and become infected. Signs in dogs and cats can include failure to gain weight, poor hair coat, diarrhea, and a pot-bellied appearance. Occasionally the live worms can be seen in the stool or vomitus.
So how common is this disease? One survey showed that more than 30% of all puppies were infected, while other surveys showed that virtually all puppies are born with roundworms. Another survey showed that more than 25% of kittens are infected. Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors tend to be at greater risk. A combination of easy transmission, widespread distribution of the parasite, and the hardy nature of the eggs in a contaminated environment all contribute to the high prevalence of this disease.
Disease in the human
So now that you have a better understanding of the disease in dogs and cats, how could the owner possibly become infected as well? Basic transmission is from ingesting the roundworms eggs from a contaminated environment, such as swallowing soil or sand from a sandbox, or contaminated feces. People will tend get the contaminated material on their hands, and then accidentally ingest it. Very rarely a person may become infected from eating undercooked meat. Pretty gross, right? Children, pet owners, and people who work with dirt are at a higher risk. Symptoms in humans can be variable. Some people do not experience symptoms at all. If one did get sick, they may experience fever, stomach pain, problems breathing, vision problems, or eye pain from the parasite traveling to various organs. Globally prevalence of human disease can be up to 40% or more in parts of the world. However, even in the U.S., it has been found that up to 14% of the population has been infected with Toxocara. If you think you or your children may be infected with roundworms, make sure to see a healthcare provider and provide them with the information that you have a pet.
Control and Prevention
Now that I have sufficiently given you the hebbie-jebbies, we can discuss what can be done to prevent this from ever happening! Hand washing is a big part of preventing disease in humans, and it is especially important to teach this to children. Simply decontaminating an environment is not effective, as the eggs are very hardy and common disinfectants are not effective at killing them. Prompt removal of feces and covering sandboxes can help prevent your backyard from becoming contaminated in the first place. Of course, yearly fecal tests and routinely deworming dogs and outdoor cats (especially puppies and kittens) will help prevent infection in them, and thus in you as w