Zoonoses: what are they and how to protect yourself

cat, dog

With the coronavirus epidemic, the topic of zoonoses has returned strongly to the fore. But do we know the main zoonoses that afflict pets, especially dogs and cats? Let’s see in a nutshell how to defend them and ourselves from potential threats

Coronavirus positive dog: If you haven’t done a similar Google search recently, raise your hand. The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic caught us unprepared regarding the subject of pets as well, and the many conflicting news stories that reached us through the media and, above all, by word of mouth have not helped. Fortunately, regarding this coronavirus and its transmission to cats and dogs, sufficient clarity has been made by the relevant authorities: pets do not have an epidemiological role in the transmission of the virus (there is a remote possibility that they can be infected by humans, on the other hand).
The topic of zoonoses is back in the spotlight and has forced many dog owners to come to terms with what they know about it. Keeping our pets in a state of perfect health is not only a duty to them, it is also the most effective defence we have against the risk of animal-to-human communicable diseases, or zoonoses. Let’s see review the principles of these diseases and what we can do to minimize the risks of contracting them.

A healthy animal is a safe animal

The key concept to start from – as is often the case when it comes to viruses, germs, and bacteria – is that of a healthy immune system. The natural defences of an animal are the first weapon it possesses against external threats: we have already talked about the importance of proper and balanced nutrition and the integration of specific nutrients through the administration of complementary feed. The latter are a very important tool for the owner of a dog or cat, which can, under the supervision of a veterinary doctor, actively contribute to the maintenance of an optimal state of health for your pet.

It goes without saying that a healthy organism is more efficient in defending itself from external threats; With equal exposure to the threat, a debilitated or immunodepressed animal is more likely to be infected.

The immune system is sometimes unable to repel parasites; the ones we need to be most concerned about are those which are able to make a leap between species, that is, from animal to man.

Zoonoses, a real danger

If the term “zoonoses” doesn’t mean much to you, you’ll be much more familiar when it comes to rabies: we all know what it is, broadly speaking, and it’s a perfect example to introduce the topic of zoonoses.
Rabies, a disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system, circulates in Europe among wild carnivores, with particular reference to the fox; it can, through a bite, pass to a dog or cat and from these – through bites, scratches, and infected saliva – to man. Rabies is a potentially deadly disease for all, animals and humans; It is all the more important, therefore, to vaccinate your animals against rabies if you live in or visit areas where the disease is endemic.
Rabies is part of that group of animal-to-human communicable diseases spread by direct contact; also included are cat-scratch disease, dermatophytosis, and scabies. Rabies is the only one for which a specific vaccine exists: to defend against other diseases you need to take care of the health and hygiene of your pet and the hygiene of your contact with it.

Intestinal parasites, a powerful vehicle for disease

A significant group of zoonoses is transmitted by intestinal parasites of the dog and cat. The hygiene of animal droppings is of paramount importance in the prevention of zoonoses – if we really need extra motivation to collect the droppings of our dog when we take him for a walk, here it is.

Among the most exposed to this type of zoonosis are young children, who are often not able to follow basic hygiene standards in interaction with pets; they are also most likely to get their hands dirty with the dirt from private gardens and public areas, exposing themselves to the risk of eggs of intestinal parasites, emitted by pets through feces, which reach the oral cavity and are ingested. Among the zoonoses that are transmitted this way are toxoplasmosis, hydatidosis, toxocariasis, parasitic dermatitis, salmonellosis, and giardiasis.

Leishmaniasis and Lyme disease: the other zoonoses

There are zoonoses that are not transmitted directly by our pets but for which they can act as an “intermediate host” in relation to humans. The best known is perhaps leishmaniasis: an endemic disease that affects both dog and human (with particular reference to the categories at highest risk: the elderly, children, immunodepressed), which is transmitted by a mosquito-like insect, the phlebotomus sand fly, and is particularly widespread among dogs, especially those for whom no prophylaxis is activated using repellent products. The infected dog acts as a “reservoir” for the infection: a phlebotomus sand fly can bite the dog, become infected, and then bite a human, infecting them in turn.

Fleas and ticks are other parasites that, if introduced into the home by pets, can, through their bite, transmit diseases to humans. Ticks in particular are carriers of rather serious zoonoses such as tick-borne encephalitis, Lyme disease, and rickettsiosis.

Protecting our pets, therefore, amounts to protecting ourselves. In the case of parasites such as fleas and ticks, pesticide products should be used correctly and for the right period of time: in some areas, in fact, it is no longer enough to limit yourself to protection in the summer months and protection must be extended throughout the year.

The importance of a defense system for health

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Zoonoses: what are they and how to protect yourself

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