During these cold winter months, we love to cuddle up in bed with our pets and they love to cuddle up with us, too. But no matter how warm this makes us, it may be a bad idea. According to a report published in the February issue of the public health journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, seemingly healthy pets can carry parasites, bacteria or viruses that cause mild to life-threatening illness in people.
More than 100 zoonotic diseases are derived from domestic pets, says Dr. Bruno Chomel, PhD, report co-author and professor at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Even though disease transmission is low in comparison to how many people sleep with their pets—more than half of all U.S. pet owners—Chomel said the risks are still there.
According to the report, a 69-year-old man, whose dog slept under the covers with him and licked his hip replacement wound, came down with meningitis. Another incident involved a 9-year-old boy who got the plague from sleeping with his flea-infested cat. Other infections transmitted to people after sleeping with their cats or dogs, kissing them, or being licked by pets include hookworm, ringworm, roundworm, cat scratch disease, and drug-resistant staph infections, the report said.
So, remind pet owners to stay healthy by practicing good hygiene habits. This includes washing hands with soap and hot water after handling pets, especially puppies, kittens, or any cat or dog with diarrhea. (Click here for a step-by-step guide to first-rate hand washing.) Also, immediately wash any area a pet licks. And encourage pet owners to prevent and catch illnesses early, keep animals free of fleas and ticks, routinely de-worm them, and have them regularly examined by a veterinarian. As hard as it may seem, the report’s authors also discourage pet owners from kissing their cats or dogs and sharing a bed with them.