I saw a headline last week that stated that intimacy with pets may be bad for your health. Being licked or sleeping in the same bed was a terrible thing. I have an opinion on this topic: Phooey on them!
It certainly is true that animals can harbor pests which could harm humans. The major categories would be internal parasites, external parasites and microbial infections. Let me deal with each category.
Cats and dogs carry several internal parasites (“worms”). These include roundworms, hookworms, coccidian, giardia, whipworms and tapeworms. Rounds, hooks, whips, coccidian and giardia are passed in the feces, although there is a stage in the life cycle of the roundworm where a larval stage is in the oral cavity. Tapeworms are only transmitted if the eggs are in the feces and eaten by a flea which is then ingested. Some worms are passed to puppies and kittens in the placenta and they are born with them. Others are acquired when feces is ingested, sometimes from licking the feet. This happens when dogs are in a dirty environment or frequent areas where many others defecate. Giardia infections occur when contaminated water puddles up, or in streams or waterfront areas. All of these parasites are easily treated with safe medications and attention paid to cleaning up feces in the environment.
External parasites such as fleas, ticks and mange are picked up from the pet’s environment. There are medications, usually ones that are applied to the skin, that will kill these pests and prevent their eggs from hatching.
It is rare that bacteria from your pet can cause harm. People who are immune-compromised may have some risk, but my experience is that most others, including children, do not have much to worry about.
We see that by taking some simple precautions we will have no problem with these infections.
Dogs are now assisting people with disabilities or with certain diseases. We all know about guide dogs for the blind. They allow the blind to be free of the home environment and carry on with life. Dogs are now being trained to assist the deaf by alerting them when a phone rings or an alarm goes off. There are dogs that can sense when a person is about to have a seizure and dogs that can detect bladder cancer.
Knowing animals as I do, I know that interacting with a pet has a huge impact on us. Just having a pet close by reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and provides companionship when no human is present. Often, children with emotional issues relate to pets and are helped socially. Just getting out of the house, playing or taking a long walk provides health benefits to both pet and owner. Even watching fish in a tank can reduce stress levels. Animals are part of our families, giving us unconditional love. How many of us sleep with our pets, converse as though talking with a friend or feel lonely when not with them?
In spite of what I have read in articles stating that closeness with our pets may cause problems, they do far more good than harm.
Oliver and Tunie have just been read this article and have commented favorably. When all four of us are in bed at night, I think how nice and soothing it is to touch and be touched by our pets. I can’t imagine not having the animals sleep with us. Oliver starts by lying on Laura’s chest while she reads. After the lights go out he pushes his way under the covers and sleeps next to Laura. Tunie takes up a larger portion of the bed, occasionally planting a few licks on our faces. I wish she had better breath.
PS. I was wrong on the origin of Tunie’s name. When she was born she had a little brown piece of fur in the shape of a pair of lips. Lips are used to kiss, so her breeder decided to use the name Star Kissed as part of her name. “Palisades Starkissed”, hence Tunafish.
Dr. Segall can be reached Tues thru Thurs mornings at The Hudson Valley Animal Hospital, 4 Old Lake Rd Valley Cottage, NY (845) 268-0089 ex 3.