Could Pet Dogs Cause an Epidemic of Infectious Diseases?

The last thing you worry about when you child is playing with the pet dog is that they are going to contract some sort of deadly infectious disease, but a new study suggests that dogs and cats could be responsible for spreading new emerging infectious diseases, writes Melissa Hathaway.

Michael Day, Professor of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Bristol, recently published a study online at ‘Emerging Infectious Diseases,’ which concludes that a global monitoring system for infectious diseases in dogs and cats needs to be established.

dog licking photo

Is Your Dog Safe?

First of all, don’t panic and run off to the vet to get your dog checked for every infectious disease under the sun. There is no immediate danger, but the study does highlight an important discrepancy in how pets are monitored for disease. Currently there is a system in place which tracks all infectious disease found in livestock, but there is no such system for household pets. Given the fact that dogs and cats often share the same living space as their owners, the potential for disease spreading is significant. Pets are vaccinated and checked by vets to make sure they are safe, but new emerging infectious diseases could be a future problem. It is well worth investing in pet insurance so that you can get your dog immediate treatment if he or she suddenly becomes sick, but more importantly pets need to be monitored regularly for new infectious diseases, as recommended by Professor Day’s study. However, a globally co-ordinated effort is required if a new system of monitoring is to be successful.

Worldwide Backing

Lots of animal associations and health organisations agree with Professor Day’s findings. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have all backed the need for a co-ordinated worldwide disease monitoring system for veterinarians who work at animal practices that treat small companions animals like dogs and cats.

Creating a global monitoring system will be no easy feat, but if it can be done for humans and livestock then it can be done for pet animals. For example, the WHO keeps track of the influenza virus in humans through 111 centres across 83 different countries. A scheme to monitor companion animal diseases would require significant funding and political support, which could take some time to achieve. However, a monitoring system is in everybody’s best interest, as Professor Day explained, “Control of diseases among dogs and cats is a good way to prevent spread to humans.”

With the number of pet dogs and cats in households across the world continually growing, a system needs to be put in place sooner than later. The numbers are staggering, as Professor Day explained. “For example there are an estimated eight to ten million dogs living in up to 31 per cent of UK homes and in the USA, 72 million dogs in 37 per cent of homes.”

Recognising the Benefits of Animal Companions

The study is by no means trying to shine a bad light on the strong relationship many families have with their pet dog, but simply wants to bring to everyone’s attention the potential threat that they could cause, and suggests that something should be done about it now to avoid the problem. Humans have lived happily with animals for centuries, but now the closeness of relationships between man and dog has grown, as has their proximity.

Day explained, “In developed countries the relationship between man and dogs and cats has deepened, with these animals now closely sharing the human indoor environment.”

He went on to say, ‘‘The benefits of pet ownership on human health, well-being and development are unquestionable, but as dogs and cats have moved from the barn, to the house, to the bedroom, the potential for disease spread to humans increases.”

Small companion animals have much more close human contact than wild animals or livestock, and this significantly raises the possibility that an infectious disease could be passed from pet to owner. Day sees the proliferation of animals being kept as pets as having the potential to be a serious problem in terms of diseases transmission from animals to humans, but he wants to protect the relationship people and society as a whole have with dogs. Hopefully his words of warning will spur governments across the world into action.

Photo by Tobyotter

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