By Henry Cerny, DVM, MS
The good news is that most diseases don’t pass from dogs to humans. Still, there are some health concerns to be on the lookout for. Here are the main ones — and the symptoms to watch out for.
It’s still a worldwide threat to animals and people and it’s almost always fatal. The most likely sources of rabies are wild animals, such as skunks, raccoons, bats, foxes, and coyotes. Dogs, cats, and people can become infected if they’re bitten by a rabid animal.
Rabies vaccination helps protect our pets from this life-threatening disease, but it’s important to keep in mind that not every animal that’s vaccinated will develop protective immunity. Every animal bite wound should be cleaned thoroughly and examined by a health care professional as soon as possible.
Lepto is a contagious disease in both animals and humans caused by the Leptospira bacterium. It enters though a break in the skin or through the mucous membranes, such as the mouth or the conjunctiva tissue around the eyes.
Some dogs with lepto may not show any clinical signs. The most common symptoms are fever, depression, lethargy, gum ulcers, loss of appetite, and hemoglobinuria (dark or blood-colored urine). Infection can result in liver and kidney damage.
Most human outbreaks occur after people have been swimming or playing in water infected with lepto. When engaging in water sports, be careful not to swallow or drink lake, pond, or river water. This goes for your dog as well; bring along a clean source of drinking water. Lepto vaccinations are available. Ask your veterinarian if vaccination is right for your pet.
Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Brachyspira pilosicoli: These bacteria are found in the intestinal tract and can be passed from dogs to people. Dogs carrying these micro-organisms may not show any signs of illness, or they could have symptoms including fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Salmonella and Campylobacter are known to cause disease in people, while organisms such as Brachyspira pilosicoli, although usually seen in developing countries, can be found anywhere. The best way to prevent infection is by practicing good hygiene. Don’t let your dog lick your lips or mouth. Wash your hands thoroughly if you come in contact with animal feces or touch anywhere around an animal’s rectal area. If you’re in a place where washing your hands is not practical, a handwash such as Puracyn can be used to help kill these organisms.
Besides bacterial pathogens, dog feces can be a source of parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and Giardia. Dogs can become infected with them when they ingest feces or soil contaminated with feces.
Your best defense is prevention. Wash your hands, and make sure your children know how important it is to wash their hands after playing, and to not eat dirt or sand — wild animals can defecate and seed parasite eggs in sandboxes.
If you’re working or playing outside, don’t go barefoot, because some species of hookworm can penetrate the skin of people and animals. Have your dog checked at least twice yearly by your veterinarian for intestinal parasites. Remove any fecal waste from your yard as soon as possible.
Use flea products to help prevent tapeworm infection. There are medications that not only prevent heartworm disease but also kill intestinal parasites..
Ringworm is a fungal disease that affects the skin, and it can be passed from your dog or cat to you. Most commonly seen in kittens and puppies, it can, however, occur in animals of any age.
Some pets have no signs of infection, while others show the typical symptoms of loss of hair, rash, and crusty or scaly skin. When people become infected they usually develop a red ring-shaped rash (and a bald spot, if it’s on the scalp) that’s often itchy.
Topical treatments for pets includeshampoos with lime sulfur, miconazole, or ketoconazole. Oral medications are often used if the infection is generalized.
Henry Cerny, DVM, MS serves on the board of directors for the Lincoln Emergency Clinic and the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. He practices at Yankee Hill Veterinary Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska.