Australians on high alert amid the coronavirus pandemic have been warned about a host of other infectious diseases that can be transmitted to them via their four-legged friends.
Receiving a sloppy lick from a dog might seem innocent, but it could actually see the transfer of a potentially harmful infection, according to emergency and critical care veterinarian Dr Brooke Schampers.
Most of these diseases, which fall into the zoonotic category, are the result of parasites, Dr Schampers told Yahoo News Australia.
“What we see a lot of is intestinal parasites such as hook worm and round worm. They are the two internal parasites that can certainly transfer to people,” Dr Schampers said.
“Externally, you have things like mites which are acquired through contact transmission and can cause a lot of itchiness and discomfort.”
The worms, however, are transmitted orally and via faeces, so when they lick people’s hands and faces, they could be delivering more than a sweet show of affection.
“It’s reasonably easy to catch these parasites from our pets if we don’t use proper hand hygiene and take preventative measures against them,” Dr Schampers said.
While the infections aren’t deadly and can be treated with medication, they’re certainly not something anyone would want to come by.
“With hook worm, the parasites can migrate under our skin, so that in itself comes with a lot of discomfort. And round worm can cause gastrointestinal side-effects like vomiting and diarrhoea,” Dr Schampers said.
Some dogs would show obvious signs of being infected with worms, Dr Schampers said, but in others it could go unnoticed until it was too late.
“If you’re in really close contact with your pet, and you’re picking up your pet’s faeces really frequently, then contracting a zoonotic disease is certainly possible,” she said.
How to prevent contracting a zoonotic disease
As a precaution, Dr Schampers said she and her colleagues wormed themselves annually to be on the safe side, given the volume of animals they were in close contact with.
Aside from this measure, dog owners should be vigilant with washing their hands frequently, especially before eating and after picking up faeces.
Dr Schampers suggested owners consider wearing gloves while cleaning up after their dog and recommended they always use a well-sealed bag.
One of the most important thing dog owners can do to prevent contraction of a disease from their pet is to refrain from allowing it to lick their face.
“That’s probably the biggest risk factor. The way a lot of these intestinal parasites are transmitted is from them licking our face or our hands [before] touching our face and our mouth,” the vet said.
“Puppies are even more of a risk which can be hard because they’re so cute.”
Additionally, dog owners should be worming their pets on a regular basis – at least every three months with products like NexGard Spectra, according to Dr Schampers,
“Preventative medications are incredibly effective if they’re used appropriately. Making sure pets are on prevention is the most important thing we can do for their health and our health,” she said.
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