Vet’s urgent warning to pet owners over little-known threat to humans

Infections can transfer to humans, but studies reveal pet owners are not treating their feline and canine friends.

An Aussie vet has shared a stark health warning to owners of cats and dogs as recent data revealed owners are not following best practices and keeping up with regular parasite treatments.

This is despite the fact an infection on our pet can also be detrimental to everyone in the family. "Some of the parasites that infect [dogs and] cats can also infect humans," Dr Katherine Briscoe told Yahoo News Australia.

A recent survey by Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) revealed that more than 4 out of 5 cat owners are not deworming their cats monthly, or using year-round flea control, while another, separate study has revealed nearly 1 in 4 dog owners have never dewormed their dog at all.

In Australia, AMA's study shows a third of households have cats in Australia (33.3%) while 47.8% of households have dogs.

Left image of two young cats inside on a yellow sofa. Right image of a silhouette of a dog being walked at sunset.
Studies show Aussies are dropping the ball when it comes to parasite protection. Source: Getty

Certain parasites are known to be zoonotic — meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans — including roundworm, hookworm, and Hydatid tapeworm.

"We're treating [parasites] to prevent them from getting sick but we're also treating [them] to prevent us from getting sick, and you can have quite severe consequences," Briscoe said.

If infected, symptoms may not appear unless a person is heavily infected, but can include diarrhoea, tiredness and weakness, abdominal pain and weight loss according to Health Direct.

A stool sample is required to diagnose most, while a gut biopsy specimen is required for hydatid disease, which is serious and potentially fatal.

Extreme close up of a Hookworm (left) and a Roundworm (right).
Extreme close-up of a hookworm (left) and a roundworm (right). Source: Australian Research Council / CSIRO

How to prevent parasites from taking over

Regular deworming and parasite protection is an important way to protect pets and families from parasites, explains Briscoe.

For cats, she recommends NexGard SPECTRA Spot-on because it's the only medication available that treats every parasite at once. You can also find a range of all-in-one treatments for dogs at your local vet or pet shop.

Other ways to protect against infection that Health Direct recommend include:

  • wash your hands after gardening and before eating or drinking

  • always wash fruit and vegetables before eating

  • cook beef and pork thoroughly

  • wear shoes when in areas of moist, sandy soil or that may be contaminated with dog faeces

  • wash your hands after handling dogs

  • supervise dogs so they can’t feed on dead stock animals or wild animals

  • do not feed offal to your dog

Keeping cats indoors a solution to many problems

For cat owners, keeping your beloved feline inside does not completely prevent infection but it helps limit the risk while also protecting them from other safety concerns.

"My cat is part of my family and I hate the thought of something happening to him if he was allowed to wander," Invasive Species Council conservation officer Candice Bartlett previously told Yahoo. "Two in three cat owners have lost a cat in a roaming-related accident... I know that keeping my cat at home will keep my cat safe while helping to protect wildlife.

323 million native animals are killed every year from the 'paws' of cats who are let out by "irresponsible" pet owners. By keeping your cat safely indoors, you are keeping other animals safe too.

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