More than half of Canadian households include a pet. These pets are dogs and cats, as well as other types of pets such as rabbits, birds, reptiles and fish! Pets are often considered one of the family, and research has found that there are health benefits to owning pets. These benefits are both emotional and physical.
It's not always easy caring for pets, however, and sometimes having them in the home poses health hazards. It is common for dogs and cats to nuzzle and lick their owners, and many sleep in the same bed as their owners. Given the very close contact between pets and people, it is easy to see how infection could be transmitted between them. This is especially important for certain groups, including young children and immunocompromised people. For more information about diseases that can be transmitted between pets and people, see the list in the sidebar under Related Pages.
Your veterinarian is a great source of information and advice about the time and financial commitments involved in owning a pet, what type of pet would be best suited to you, and where you should get a pet.
In order to decrease the risk of your pet becoming sick and/or potentially transmitting an infection to a person, it is recommended that the pet should be:
- Well socialized and accustomed to handling: make the pet less fearful of different situations and less likely to bite or scratch a person.
- Examined regularly by a veterinarian: in order to assess the overall health of the pet, and check and treat (if necessary) for external and internal parasites. Dog’s and cat’s claws should also be kept well trimmed.
- Spayed/neutered: this will help to decrease roaming and aggression.
If your pet will be in contact someone who may be more susceptible to infectious disease (e.g. young children; HIV/AIDS, transplant and cancer patients), it is also recommended that your dog/cat should be:
- At least one year old: this decreases the likelihood that they will carry intestinal parasites and harmful bacteria, and makes it easier to judge the pet’s overall temperament to ensure it is friendly and docile.
- Examined thoroughly by a veterinarian BEFORE being taken home.
- Already house-trained: to ensure that stool and urine (and the pathogens in them) are not spread in the house.
- Take your pet to the veterinarian for regular check-ups, vaccinations, and deworming. Healthy pets are much less likely to carry diseases that can infect you. Keeping your pets free of fleas and ticks is also very important.
- Clean up after your pet. Keep your cat's litter box clean, and keep your yard free of dog waste.
- Don't handle your pet's stool or urine. Wear disposable gloves (or gloves that can easily be disinfected) when cleaning the cat's litter box, and use a scooper or something to cover your hand when picking up after your dog.
- Thoroughly wash your hands after handling your pet, or its food or bedding, or cleaning up after your pet (even if you were wearing gloves). This is especially important before you eat anything.
- Don't let your pets (or children, for that matter) come in contact with stray or wild animals. These animals are much more likely to have diseases that can infect your pet and possibly infect you.
- Don't let your pets lick you in the mouth, and teach children not to put their mouths on animals or put any part of the animal's body in their mouth.
- Avoid feeding your pet raw food (meat or commercial raw pet food), raw meat pet treats or unpasteurized milk.