Do you let your dog lick you on the mouth? That may not be such a wise thing to do. “Your mouth is such a portal for zoonotic diseases that the days of the ‘canine tonsil swab’ are over,” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker tells Paw Nation. “We can still love our dogs and hug them, but it’s really not a good idea to let dogs kiss you on the mouth. Let ’em lick you on the cheek instead.”
On Thursday’s episode of The Dr. Oz Show, Dr. Becker (of “Good Morning America” fame) talks about diseases you can catch from your dogs and cats. “Because we’re living more intimate lives with our pets – hugging and kissing our pets, and sleeping with them at night — we’re at more risk for catching certain zoonotic diseases from our dogs and cats,” Dr. Becker
Foremost among those diseases come from MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), parasites and ringworm. The bacteria MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics. A study found that a full 50% of the houses that researchers inspected had MRSA lurking on kitchen and faucet handles, drains, and on high chairs and trash cans. The common denominator was pet cats. “Cat owners are eight times more likely to have MRSA in their homes,” says Dr. Becker. Moreover, the bacteria was “ping-ponging back and forth between humans and pets.”
Another alarming fact? “About 600 U.S. children lose their eyesight each year due to roundworm larvae,” says Dr. Becker, “which they contract from soil that has contaminated dog feces, which doesn’t have to be from your dog, but from any dog feces off the street.” With respect to parasites, Dr. Becker points out that our pets can bring deer ticks into the home, which can cause Lyme disease in humans.
Who is most at risk for contracting zoonotic diseases? “The very young, the very old, and those with weakened immune systems from HIV or chemotherapy, and pregnant women,” Dr. Becker says.
Before you banish your pet from the house or vow to keep them at arm’s length, Dr. Becker points out that the goal is to get rid of the risk, not the pet. “If you lose the intimacy, you lose the healing power of pets,” he says.
Dr. Becker offers several solutions to minimize the risk of catching a disease from our pets. High-tech solutions include using an antimicobrial shampoo on our pets to combat MRSA, year-round flea and tick prevention products to protect your pet against parasites, heartworm medications and keeping your pets fully vaccinated.
Low-tech solutions are even simpler. For instance, pick up dog feces from your yard every other day. “Feces have to sit in your yard for more than 2 days before it goes into the infective stage,” says Dr. Becker. “So if you keep your yard picked up every other day, the parasites never reach the infective stage.”
Also, wash your hands with soap and water before and after playing with your pets or disposing of feces from the yard or cat litter box. “Wash your hands long enough for you to say the entire alphabet from A to Z,” says Dr. Becker. While most of us are familiar with the dangers of pregnant women cleaning the cat litter box due to toxoplasmosis (caused by a parasite), Dr. Becker says that toxoplasmosis is an even bigger danger to those who garden since cats often use garden areas as litter boxes. “Always wear gloves when you garden and wash your hands well afterwards,” he says.
With those precautions in place, we can still very much enjoy our pets. “I let my dogs sleep in our bed too,” says Dr. Becker, “but I use an antimicrobial shampoo and give them a monthly parasite control and keep them fully vaccinated. The only real change I’ve made is having my dog kiss me on the cheek rather than my mouth.”