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Don't blame Fluffy.

DON'T BLAME FLUFFY

I once had a client call me frantically in the middle of the night. A neighbor had told her that her ten-year-old Persian cat, Fluffy, would cause her unborn baby to be retarded. I tried to allay her fears. It is true that pets can transmit certain diseases to humans, but the majority of diseases that afflict our pets are not transmissible. For those that are, knowledge and adequate precaution can be our armor.

Fluffy's accuser was probably referring to toxoplasmosis, a protozoan cat parasite that can cause miscarriage or birth defects in children born to infected women. In adult humans, toxoplasmosis is usually a mild disease, clinically similar to influenza. Approximately one-half of all Americans are immune to it. Having been exposed to the parasite, they develop antibodies without showing symptoms of disease. Twenty-five to 45 percent of women of childbearing age are immune to Toxoplasma infection. Problems can arise in women who have had no previous exposure to the disease and who become infected before or shortly following conception. One-eighth to one-third of these women may deliver babies with birth defects.

Getting rid of Fluffy was certainly not the answer to my client's worries. Here are the recommendations I give my pregnant clients: Try to prevent cats from hunting animals or birds and do not feed them raw meat. Have your cat tested for antibodies to toxoplasmosis. (If there is a significant antibody level, the cat is immune. No antibodies means the cat could become infected.) Clean and disinfect litter boxes daily, because the parasites' eggs do not become infectious until one to five days after being passed in the feces. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning the litter box. They should also wear gloves while gardening in areas frequented by cats and should wash well after animal contact. These precautions should prevent the tragedy of infant toxoplasmosis.

Pets may inadvertently spread other diseases to humans as well. Children are the most susceptible because they are less aware of proper personal-hygiene practices.

Intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms are an example. They can be passed in the feces of infected dogs and cats. Their eggs can remain viable in soil or sand for months if temperature, humidity and soil type are favorable. Although people are not the natural hosts for these parasites, problems can occur if children ingest soil contaminated with roundworm eggs. In humans the condition they cause is called visceral larval migrans or ocular larval migrans, and symptoms depend upon the mechanical damage to body organs or the eyes by migrating larvae. One recent survey of the general U.S. population revealed that only 2.8 percent had antibodies to this parasite. In Atlanta, where climatic conditions are conducive to soil contamination by the dog or cat roundworm, 37 percent of all retinal eye disease in children is diagnosed as ocular larval migrans.

A less-serious disease, cutaneous larval migrans, can be caused by the larvae of the common dog hookworm that penetrate bare human feet and cause a skin eruption.

Deworming of household pets is the most effective protection against these common parasites. Your veterinarian can determine by a laboratory exam of the feces whether your pet is infected. Enforcement of leash laws and effective measures to remove feces or to exclude pets from children's playgrounds and parks help prevent transmission of infectious larvae to children. Of course, teaching good personal-hygiene practices to children is the most important way to prevent transmission of such diseases.

Dogs and cats are not, as some people still believe, carriers of pinworms or lice. However, sarcoptic mange, which causes severe itching and hair loss in puppies, can also cause a rash in children who play with an infected animal.

Children are also susceptible to pettransmitted ringworms, usually manifested by reddened, circular or blotchy patches on the face, arms or neck. Lesions in pets vary from the classic circular areas of hair loss with stubbled hairs, scaling and crusting to more generalized hair loss.

Personal hygiene after handling animals and prompt diagnosis and treatment of infected pets should help prevent the spread of ringworm to household members. Since ringworm is a fungus and fungal spores remain alive in the environment for many months, pet living areas should be vacuumed and disinfected with fungicides. Bedding, brushes, etc., should be disinfected, too.

Addicts of Stephen King's horror novels are well aware of the terrifying symptoms of rabies. Like many of the other animal-transmitted diseases, rabies may be a greater potential hazard to youngsters than to adults. Children, particularly those younger than six, have the highest incidence of bite wounds.

The first line of defense agsinst rabies is immediate treatment of the local bite or scratch wound: Flush the wound with soap and water, disinfectant and alcohol. Contact the local public-health department and your physician. Your physician will determine the treatment needed. The human death rate from rabies in the United States is now quite low, but approximately 30,000 people are treated with the human rabies vaccine each year because of exposure or possible exposure to the disease. The new human vaccine, given in five intramuscular injections, is much less painful and hazardous to people than the previous traumatic series of stomach injections.

Pet owners should remember that proper health care is in their hands. It includes regular physical examinations, fecal analyses and vaccinations.

Make sure your pet is well, and you will stay well, too. There's no need to blame Fluffy.

Questions for the Vet

Dear Dr. White:

We have a healthy dog, 11 years old, half poodle and the other part we do not know. My husband is retiring next January. We would love to have our dog travel with us. But when we put a leash or even halter on him he coughs and gags. At first we thought he was putting on, but when we get close to his throat other times he coughs and gags. We have had him checked by the vet. He cannot find anything wrong.

Is there any way we could take him besides using a leash or a halter? Without pulling to make him choke we are lost on what to do. We hate to put him to sleep.

Joyce Groves Powell, Wyoming

Dear Mrs. Groves:

This sounds like the age-old question, "Can you teach an old dog new tricks?' If your veterinarian can find no medical reason for this condition, it is probably a behavior problem.

Check out a good book about obedience training for dogs at your local library. The basic obedience commands, as well as leash training, should be taught to your dog. The alternative to this type of behavior control would be to keep the dog in a cage or a carrier during trips.

Good luck!

H.E.W.

Dear Dr. White:

In general, I appreciated "Winterize Your Dog,' Nov. '84. I would have appreciated knowing the clinical evidences of hypothermia in animals so as to be on the lookout for it.

Also, I wonder why Dr. White, in answering the inquiry from Mrs. Mascaro re fleas, did not suggest the use of Proban.

I have given it, in accordance with instructions from my vet, to both my cat and my dog. They have been relatively free from fleas--a dramatic improvement over brewer's yeast or any of the sprays.

Thank you for your attention.

Mrs. Harry O. Dunn Mountain Home, Arkansas

Dear Mrs. Dunn:

You do indeed read our articles carefully. The use of most current flea remedies, including oral medications such as Proban, was discussed in the article on flea control in the July/August 1984 issue of the Post.

Hypothermia refers to low body temperature. Usually an animal will respond to low environmental temperature by curling up and shivering. Its hair will become more erect to give greater insulation. Its body usually responds by producting hormones such as epinephrine and thyroxine, while the small vessels in the skin and the superficial tissues constrict.

The young puppy or kitten has little ability to regulate its temperature and relies on the warmth of the mother, litter mates and a suitable nest.

H.E.W.
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Title Annotation:contagious pet diseases
Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1985
Words:1357
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