Zoonoses – diseases that pass from animals to humans
There are a range of diseases which our pets can pass onto humans. These can also be referred to as zoonoses. Worms, ringworm and toxoplasmosis, in particular, relate to our children, pet dogs and cats. Good hygiene practices, regular worming and flea treatment and keeping your environment free of cat and dog faeces will go a long way to minimising the risk of these and other diseases being passed on.
Zoonoses are a range of diseases animals can give to humans. Worms, ringworm and toxoplasmosis are diseases that dogs and cats can give to your child. To minimise the risk of transferring these and other diseases, always:
keep good hygiene practices
regularly worm your pet
regularly treat your pet for fleas
keep your environment free of cat and dog faeces.
Diseases passed to the unborn baby
What is it toxoplasmosis?
Toxoplasmosis is an infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. It infects warm blooded animals including humans and usually with no symptoms. Many people have been in contact with this parasite already and built up immunity.
Toxoplasmosis is rare, but it can cause serious disease in unborn babies. Pregnant women can follow simple precautions to minimise the risk of infection.
How do you get toxoplasmosis?
You can get toxoplasmosis by:
eating contaminated raw or partly cooked meat
using contaminated food utensils that have been in contact with raw meat
contact with infected cat faeces
consuming contaminated drinking water.
I want to keep my cat
There is no need to surrender your cat just because you are pregnant. You can minimise the risk of toxoplasmosis by following some simple guidelines.
The risk of catching toxoplasmosis is much higher from poor food preparation and eating under cooked meat than catching it from your cat.
According to a European Study in the British Medical Journal, the risk of your baby getting toxoplasmosis from your cat is approximately 1 in 1,000,000.
How to avoid toxoplasmosis? Cat faeces
You can come into contact with cat faeces through the litter tray or soil in the garden. To avoid contamination from cat faeces, avoid hand to mouth contact.
Make sure litter trays are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected at least daily. It takes about 24 hours for the infected faeces to become contagious.
Leave the cleaning of the trays to your partner and make sure they practise good hygiene. No contact means minimised risk.
To clean the litter:
Carefully pour litter into a plastic bag, tie it up and place into the bin.
Wash the tray with very hot water and detergent.
If there’s no one else to clean the trays, always use rubber gloves.
Wear gloves if you will be touching any soil or sand.
Always wash your hands thoroughly after gardening, cleaning trays and touching your cat.
All cats use sand and soil as their outdoor toilet trays. As the risk of handling contaminated faeces is higher because you are not disposing of the faeces within the initial 24 hour period – it can remain contagious in the soil for months.
Don’t feed your cat raw meat
The toxoplasmas parasite can be carried in raw meat. Make sure all meat is cooked thoroughly (until the juices run clear). The parasite cannot survive at high temperatures, so this is very important. Good quality commercial pet foods are a good alternative.
Kitchen hygiene is essential
You are at much higher risk of getting toxoplasmosis from eating badly prepared and under cooked food than from your cat.
Prepare your food hygienically and cook all meats thoroughly. Freezing also kills the toxoplasma cysts.
When preparing food:
Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing food.
Thoroughly wash all utensils and kitchen equipment that has touched uncooked foods.
Wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before cooking and eating.
When preparing and cooking meat:
Avoid touching or eating raw or under cooked meats (or use disposable gloves).
Cook all meats through to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Fluids from cooked meat should be clear.
If you are concerned, a blood test before or during pregnancy will help determine the level of risk. If you’ve have been infected in the past there is minimal risk of transmission to the unborn baby.
Diseases pets may pass to children
What is roundworm?
Pets often have large parasitic worms living in their intestine called roundworm. Humans can be infected by accidentally consuming the eggs which are passed in the faeces. Children are more at risk because they play in backyards and sand pits which can be contaminated with dog and cat faeces. The eggs hatch in the digestive tract and the larvae migrate to various organs.
How can you prevent it?
Worm all dogs and cats in the house regularly.
Don’t allow your pets to lick your child’s face.
Always wash your child’s hands after handling your pet.
Avoid hands in mouths until after the hands are washed.
Dispose of pet’s faeces as soon as possible.
Cover sand pits to prevent contamination by cats and dogs.
Signs of roundworm in pets
Most pets don’t show any signs of infection. Pets with extreme worm burdens may have:
blood or mucus in faeces
loss of appetite
Signs of roundworm in children
Mild infections may not cause symptoms. More serious infections may cause:
poor or ravenous appetite
Occasionally larvae get trapped in blood vessels behind the eye or in the brain which cause reduced vision or blindness.
How to treat roundworm in your pets
Worm your pets with a good quality 'all wormer' on a regular basis. Make sure your environment is free of pet faeces. Seek advice from your veterinarian on appropriate treatment.
How to treat roundworm in your child
Seek medical advice for the best treatment for your child. Anti-parasitic drugs can be prescribed.
What is ringworm?
Ringworm is actually not a worm but a fungal infection of the skin. It can spread from direct contact or from things like:
Thoroughly wash hands after handling pets or playing in the garden.
Avoid direct contact with infected animals.
Signs of ringworm in pets
Cats can be carriers of ringworm and show little to no sign of infection. Ringworm is more common in kittens or young cats, before their immune system has fully developed. The infection normally appears as a circular patch of hair loss, usually 1 to 4 centimetres wide. The head and paws are usually affected.
Signs of ringworm in children
In humans ringworm appears as a red scaly area. It may look like a target or a patch of hair loss.
Treating your child for ringworm
Although not serious, seek medical advice as soon as possible. It can normally be treated with a cream.
Cat scratch disease
What is cat scratch disease?
Cat scratch disease is caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria, which is passed between cats by fleas and possibly ticks. It is more common in kittens but they usually only carry the bacteria for a limited time. The disease is passed to humans through:
a cat scratch
a cat bite
exposure to cat saliva.
Preventing cat scratch disease
Avoid rough play or activities that lead the cat to scratch or bite.
Don’t let cats lick your child’s open wounds or scratches.
Thoroughly wash all cat bites and scratches with soap and running water.
Treat your cats regularly with a quality flea treatment.
Signs of cat scratch disease in cats
Usually cats do not display any sign of infection.
Signs of cat scratch disease in children
In children, cat scratch disease looks like a minor infection at the wound site. It appears approximately 7 to 12 days after the incident. Symptoms may include:
In severe cases cat scratch disease can develop into swelling of the lymph nodes.
Treating your pet for cat scratch disease
As cats don’t usually show symptoms, very few cats are treated for cat scratch disease. Contact your veterinarian for advice.
Treating your child for cat scratch disease
Seek medical advice if your child has symptoms of cat scratch disease. Tests may be needed to rule out other illnesses. Although usually a mild illness, antibiotics may be needed.