Parents love both their children and their pets. Many pet owners even call their pets fur children. But it is important to create a safe and healthy environment for both children and pets. We especially worry about parasite and bacterial transmission from animals to people, although the reverse can occur as well. The following are some ideas to keep children and pets safe.
1. Take a pet’s stool sample to your veterinarian at least twice yearly to check for parasites. This is a routine test, but some parasites are “sneaky” and won’t show up in every sample.
2. Make sure all your dogs and cats are on monthly parasite preventatives. Some of the heartworm preventatives will also prevent some intestinal parasites that can infect people. Discuss with your veterinarian which preventative medications are effective for which organisms.
3. Do not ever feed raw meat to your pets. Uncooked meat can harbor parasites and bacteria that are dangerous to both people and pets.
4. Keep your cats as indoor-only pets. Cats that are allowed to roam can eat mice or other animals that can give them parasites such as Toxoplasma, which then can be transmitted to people.
5. Reptiles can be fun to own but they are frequently found to harbor Salmonella. There is no method to determine with certainty which reptiles have this bacteria or any way to clear them of the organism. It might be best to not allow small children to own reptiles until they are old enough to understand that hand washing is imperative after handling.
6. Do not have a sand box in your yard or allow your children to play in one. Roaming cats love these as they think sand boxes are a great big litter box. Serious parasites can be transmitted from the cat’s stool to kids for months or even years after the sand is contaminated; the eggs can even survive freezing and hot weather. These parasites can cause blindness or organ damage.
7. When your dog goes outside to defecate, pick up the stool immediately. Parasites will have less time to become infective. If the stool is allowed to sit on the yard, the parasites are spread into a wider area by rain or water from sprinklers.
8. You should deworm puppies and kittens even before you bring them home. It is best to obtain medicine from your veterinarian for this, as the dewormers used by breeders are usually less effective over-the-counter medicine.
9. Wash food and water bowls daily. A recent study showed that hand scrubbing and then washing in a dishwasher was the only effective method of cleaning. Each method done separately did not provide good sanitation.
10. A different topic is keeping kids safe from bites. Do not let your child run up to a strange dog. Teach your children what to do if approached by a dog: don’t run, don’t put your hands out, and don’t stare into their eyes. If the child is able, they should back up slowly. If in danger, they should roll into a ball on the ground and protect their head.
Pets and children are wonderful, they give us so much joy and are very important members of the family. They may be initially uncertain around each other, but with some knowledge and precautions we can keep everyone in the family happy and healthy.