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Health Information For Parents
Caring for pets is a great learning experience for kids, teaching them responsibility, gentleness, and respect for other living beings. Like adults, kids can benefit from the companionship, affection, and relationships they share with their pets.
But animals and pets can spread infections to humans, especially kids. So if you’re thinking about buying a pet, or already have one, it’s important to know how to protect your family from infections.
Like people, all animals carry germs. Illnesses common among housepets — such as distemper, canine parvovirus, and heartworms — can’t spread to humans.
But pets also carry certain bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that can cause illness if transmitted to humans. Humans get these animal-borne diseases when they’re bitten or scratched or have contact with an animal’s waste, saliva, or dander.
These diseases can affect humans in many ways. They’re of greatest concern to young children, infants, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems have been compromised by illness or disease. Infants and kids younger than 5 years old are at risk because their immune systems are still developing, and some infections that might make an adult just mildly sick can be more serious for them.
But you don’t have to give up your family’s furry friends either. Pets can enrich your family life, and taking a few precautions can protect your kids from getting sick.
Protecting your family from pet-related infections begins before bringing a pet home. For instance, reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed as pets in any household with infants and young children.
Also consider the health and age of your kids before getting a pet. A pet that would require frequent handling is not recommended for any immunocompromised child (such as a child who has HIV, has cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy, or uses prednisone frequently). Kids with eczema should probably avoid aquariums.
Dogs and cats are popular pets but can carry infections such as:
More than 2 million cases of campylobacter infection happen each year in the United States, and C. jejuni is now the leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis. These infections are contagious, especially among members of the same family and kids in childcare or preschools. Infection is treated with antibiotics.
Pet birds, even if they are kept in a cage, may transmit these diseases:
Reptiles (including lizards, snakes, and turtles) and amphibians (including frogs, toads, and salamanders) put kids at risk for:
Handling and caring for rodents — including hamsters and gerbils — as well as fish can place kids at risk for:
If you’re adopting or buying a pet, make sure the breeder, shelter, or store has a good reputation and vaccinates all of its animals. A reputable breeder should belong to a national or local breeding club, such as the American Kennel Club. Contact the Humane Society of the United States or your veterinarian for information about animal shelters in your area.
As soon as you choose a family pet, take it to a local veterinarian for vaccinations and a physical exam. Don’t forget to routinely vaccinate your pet on a schedule recommended by your vet — this will keep your pet healthy and reduce the risk that infections will spread to your kids.
You’ll also want to regularly feed your pet nutritious animal food (ask your vet for suggestions) and provide plenty of fresh water. Avoid feeding your pet raw meat because this can be a source of infection, and do not allow your pet to drink toilet water because infections can be spread through saliva, urine, and feces.
Limit young kids’ contact with outdoor pets that hunt and kill for food because a pet that ingests infected meat may get an infection that can be passed to people.
Here are some tips to help your family safely care for pets:
Watch kids carefully around pets. Small children are more likely to catch infections from pets because they crawl around on the floor with the animals, kiss them or share food with them, or put their fingers in the pets’ mouths and then put their dirty fingers in their own mouths. Also, if kids visit a petting zoo, farm, or a friend’s house where there are animals, make sure they know the importance of hand washing.
For your pet’s comfort and for your family’s safety, control flea and tick problems in your pet. Fleas and ticks can carry diseases that may be easily passed to kids. Oral and topical medicines are available for flea and tick control; avoid using flea collars because kids can handle them and become sick from the chemicals they contain. Check your pet regularly for fleas and ticks, as well as bites and scratches that may make them more open to infection. Keep your pet leashed when outdoors and keep it away from animals that look sick or may be unvaccinated.
And, finally, spay or neuter your pet. Spaying and neutering may reduce your pet’s contact with other animals that may be infected, especially if your pet goes outdoors.
Rabies is a serious infection of the nervous system that is caused by a virus. Rabies is usually transmitted by a bite from an infected animal.
Uh-oh. Could your pet be making your asthma worse? Find out more in this article for kids.
If you have asthma, you’re more likely to be allergic to a pet than someone who doesn’t have asthma. Find out what you can do.
Animal bites and scratches, even minor ones, can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body, regardless of whether the animal is a family pet or a wild animal.
Animal bites and scratches that break the skin can cause infection. Rarely, animal bites can cause rabies, a dangerous, life-threatening disease.
Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.
Do you love animals? Lots of kids do. Find out how to stay safe around them in this article for kids.
Did you know that the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands? If you don’t wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself.
Are you a little afraid of dogs? Some kids are, so find out how you can make friends with dogs and avoid dog bites.
Teaching kids a few basic dog manners will help them enjoy safe encounters with Fido.
Washing your hands well and often is the best way to keep from getting sick. Here’s how to teach this all-important habit to your kids.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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