Pets are an important part of our families and society in general. Therefore it is not unusual to see animals sharing family activities and even our beds. Sometimes however this shared environment can lead to public health issues. There are over 200 zoonoses (animal diseases transmissible to man) but of these only a few are associated with pets. Among the most common public health issues we as veterinarians deal with are intestinal parasitism, skin parasites, Lyme Disease, Toxoplasmosis, Leptospirosis, Rabies and animal bites.
Animal bites are one of the most common pet-associated human health problems in Canada. The Canadian Safety Council estimates that dogs bite 460,000 Canadians annually. These bite wounds may result in Pasteurella wound infection, a painful and disabling condition requiring medical attention. Because of their small size and greater tendency to engage in bite-provoking behaviour, children are the most frequent victims. While rarely fatal, animal bites can elicit anxiety about tetanus and rabies in addition to the medical consequences.
Rabies is a severe fatal viral infection involving the central nervous system of warm-blooded animals including man. Exposure to wildlife, especially foxes, skunks, raccoons and bats increases the risk for spread of the disease to domestic pets. If infected pets then interact with their human owners, the risk for contracting rabies is high if the owners are bitten by the pets or get infected saliva in an open wound or the conjunctiva of their eyes. Therefore it is important that all pets be vaccinated for rabies even if they are kept indoors. Bats have been known to enter premises through open windows or chimneys and people may be unaware of having been bitten because of bat’s tiny teeth and relatively painless bite. Owners who have been bitten or exposed to rabid animals must undergo medical treatment immediately to ensure they do not contract clinical rabies.
As providers of veterinary care we constantly keep these contagious diseases, and others, under surveillance. Although certain diseases are reportable, client education, not fear, determines the most appropriate course of action. Accordingly we are part of an internal network of communication with various municipal, provincial and federal government agencies whenever a serious zoonotic disease emerges.