Household Pets and Zoonoses (University of Guelph Master of Public Health Program)
In addition to dogs and cats, the popularity of exotic animals, such as geckos, bearded dragons, and African Dwarf Frogs is increasing; the greatest increase is ownership among children. It is estimated that approximately 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. The implications of these two trends are of concern to the public health community. A review was conducted of household pet zoonoses, comprising studies published from 2004 to the end of March 2011; English language citations that included North America, Great Britain, France, and Australia; key stakeholder consultations with Canadian experts and authors on pet-related zoonoses in Canada; a scan of provincial and territorial public health agencies in Canada for policies and protocols on household pet zoonoses; trends in pet ownership as well as risks of disease transmission, burden of illness, and current public health practices pertaining to pet zoonoses; policy and intervention gaps, as well as future opportunities for research and collaboration by the public health and veterinary community.
Pets remain a primary source of numerous reportable and non-reportable diseases. Outbreaks include: salmonellosis, tularaemia, cutaneous larvae migrans, and Human Lymphocytic Chorimeningitis Virus (HLCV) infections. Household pets, such as cats, dogs, turtles, ornamental fish, baby chicks, gerbils, frogs, and lizards have been associated with outbreaks of zoonotic diseases in the United States and Canada. Pet treats and pet foods, such as frozen rodents, raw-hide pet treats, and raw food diets have been cited as potential sources of zoonotic diseases. Children under 5 years of age and immunocompromised individuals have ben noted as the highest risk groups for acquiring pet zoonoses. Risk settings for the transmission of pet zoonotic diseases included: daycare, elementary and secondary school, university, acute care hospital, summer camp for children, veterinary hospital, and the home. Improper handling of pets and improper hand hygiene have been identified as primary risk factors for the majority of pet-associated infections, e.g., disposing pet waste and water in kitchen sinks. Failure to screen organ donors has been cited as the risk factor for a 2005 outbreak of HLCV. Numerous surveillance, regulatory, knowledge and research gaps were noted during the course of this research.
Continued growth of the pet industry will necessitate interventions by public health, veterinary, and regulatory communities to mitigate the impact of pet zoonoses on the public. These interventions should include: enhancement of the current surveillance systems, regulations to address existing gaps in the pet food industry, development of policies and protocols at the provincial and federal levels of government, public education regarding the risks associated with handling pets, and greater collaboration among the human and animal health sectors.