Pets represent an important part of the life of many Americans, but many others have found they can live perfectly contented without them. Both children and adults may have as much affection for a pet as for a family member, although genuine love also indicates features of spiritual and emotional duty, responsibility, and dependence. These qualities are not normally experienced with pets.
When someone determines pet ownership liabilities outweigh the benefits, alternatives are easy to find. The cultivation of plants; visiting shut-ins; giving time and attention to young children; and creative activities such as writing, art, music, all offer satisfying venues for our time, talent and love.
Eliminating pets from the household seems to be an especially difficult measure for many people. Although many parents or ill patients have been advised by their physician to get rid of their pets, they do not comply. The number of diseases associated with pets is quite formidable, and growing with each decade. Certain activities are especially associated with danger. Children playing in soil where animals have played or voided are at risk. Creeping eruption on the skin from a parasite transmitted from the pet; chorioretinitis necessitating loss of an eye, and larva migrans in the internal organs from parasites that travel from skin to deep organs are some of the common problems seen.
Toxoplasma is probably one of the most common diseases transmitted from pets to humans. About 50% of the U. S. population show evidence in their blood of having had toxoplasmosis. The disease can be very mild, with the symptoms of infectious mononucleosis or even lymphoma, but in the acute forms, the disease can be severe and is often fatal. If a baby is infected through his mother before birth the disease can result in mental retardation, blindness, or death. The disease is transmitted chiefly by cat feces and undercooked meat of infected animals.
To prevent toxoplasmosis meat should be heated to at least 150 degrees F. (66 degrees C.) throughout all portions before eating. Hands should be well washed with soap and water after handling meat.
Raw meat should never be fed to cats; feed them only dry or canned foods or cooked meats. Keep cats indoors constantly, or outdoors constantly. If you must have a cat and it is an indoor cat, find a better mouse trap, but don't allow the cat to "mouse," as mice carry Toxoplasma. If it is an outdoor cat, be all the more careful to avoid contact as its chances of contacting rodents is greatly increased.
Change litter boxes daily. Flush cat feces down the toilet or burn it. If cats are present, use gloves while working in the garden. Cats frequently defecate in loose soil found in gardens. Children’s sandboxes should be well covered when not in use to keep cats from using them as litter boxes. Women should be advised to be especially careful during pregnancy as an infection acquired during pregnancy can have devastating results on the unborn child.
Salmonellosis. Salmonellosis, a disease of the digestive tract, can be transmitted to children from a pet such as a cuddly chick or duckling received at Easter time, pet turtles and frogs, snails in aquariums, and from any other pet. Antibiotics are contraindicated for salmonellosis and may prolong the carrier state.1
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever - is now found throughout the U.S. despite its name. It is characterized by a measles-like rash and is a disease transmitted by the American dog tick. Wild animals are most often involved as the reservoir for the disease, but domesticated animals may sometimes harbor the ticks.
Rabies. Rabies is another disease transmitted from animals to man. Animals can host and transmit the rabies virus long before they manifest signs of illness. It is not just animals "foaming at the mouth and acting crazy" that need to be avoided. Rabies can be transmitted not only from rabid dogs or wild animals, but contact with the saliva of an infected animal in an open wound.
If you are bitten by a dog or cat, check with the owner to see if the animal's rabies vaccine is current. The animal should also be quarantined for a number of days to double-check for signs of rabies infection.
Cat Scratch Fever. This disease can cause lymph node swelling upstream from the scratch or bite. Rose thorn scratches may also transmit the disease if cats play around the roses. Fever and feeling bad can be part of the syndrome.
Canine heart worms - can infest humans, and show lesions on chest x-rays that mimic cancer, necessitating unnecessary surgery and expensive diagnostic procedures, to say nothing of the physical disability involved.
Tularemia - or rabbit fever can be spread by rabbits, ticks, or deer flies, and is highly contagious. It can be obtained by contact with an infected animal, eating the animal, or from air droplets. It is characterized by high fever, pneumonia, or gastrointestinal disease, swelling of lymph nodes, and an ulcer at the point of infection, and can be fatal.
Sick dogs can transmit North American blastomycosis which may have such symptoms as skin lesions or pneumonia that fails to respond to antibiotics.
Psittacosis One might think birds would be safe pets, but a little investigation reveals them to be subject to the same and different diseases as other pets. Psittacosis (parrot fever) affects 130 species of domestic and wild birds, most commonly pigeons, ducks, turkeys, chickens, and parrots. Humans normally get the disease from parrots or parakeets through contact with their feces and breathing the air around their cages. It leads to headaches, chills, fever, cough, and pneumonia.
Of course, there is more and more evidence associating pets with serious, disabling, and life-threatening diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, leukemia-lymphoma groups, and many other diseases.
If one cannot entirely eliminate pets from the environment, he should attempt to control transmission of the disease by keeping pets out-of-doors in their own quarters, far away from the areas where children play and where people are likely to breath dust that may be blown up from the animal’s quarters.
Cat pneumonia can cause cases of primary atypical pneumonia in man.2
The costs of capturing and destroying unwanted, free-roaming dogs, and administering associated laws, costs an estimated 450 million dollars annually.3
More children with brain tumors as well as children with other malignancies have been exposed to farm animals and to sick pets than children who have no malignancies.4
All kinds of animals, from ants, pet hamsters and turtles to elephants can transmit diseases to humans. The diseases range from skin lesions and sore throats to life-threatening illnesses of the brain and central nervous system.
In any family where anyone has any kind of allergy, the burden of proof is on the family to exclude the animal as the source of the allergy. About one-third of allergists uniformly recommend that pets be eliminated from the allergic household.5 The allergic person may be sensitive not only to the dander of the dog, but to saliva, urine, and blood.6
1. Patient Care, March 30, 1981, p. 23.
2. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 15(2):139, December, 1942.
3. Medical World News, Oct. 11, 1974, p. 96.
4. American Journal of Epidemiology 109:309-319, March, 1979.
5. Medical Tribune, May 23, 1979.
6. Patient Care, March 30, 1981, p. 18.
A few years ago, having some time on our hands while on a speaking tour across the United States, our health team resorted to a library to do a little research. Most modern libraries now have computers equipped with a periodical search capability which makes research more like a game.
Interested in the subject of pets and their adverse effects on their owners, two key words were entered; feline and pets. Some of the selected titles found are listed below.
AIDS-like virus found in many domestic cats (feline immunodeficiency virus.) New York Times, July 13, '91.
Cats and AIDS, (feline immunodeficiency virus related to human virus.) v11 Discover, July '90.
Feline leukemia. Mother Earth News, Sept-Oct '89.
Immune deficiency in cats. The Animals' Agenda, Jan-Feb '91.
Cats and AIDS research. Maclean's, May 2, '88.
Pet ownership-risky business? FDA Consumer, April '90.
Pets and Rabies: cause for concern in the Midwest. Better Homes and Gardens, May '89.
Zoonoses - unseen dangers (diseases that can be transferred between animals and humans.) Current Health, 2 March '91.
Can your pets transmit disease? USA Today, Feb '90.
This represents a fraction of the information available on the downside of pet ownership. Perhaps giving our attention to souls for whom Christ died would be a better outlet for our affections.
The majority of this content is taken from Dr. Agatha Thrash of Uchee Pines Institute, printed with permission by Wildwood Inn Health Retreat.