The Bond Cats, Dogs and Their Owners Shouldnât Shareby Peter M. Schantz, VMD, PhD - Epidemiologist, Division of Parasitic Diseases, CDC, Atlanta, GA
As we all know, our dogs and cats comfort us, give us companionship, and become members of our families. However, as the popularity of dog and cat ownership increases, so does the inherent risk of zoonotic infections affecting the health of both pets and human family members. The good news is that we have the means to prevent most of these infections; nevertheless, the data show that we are not as successful as we could be.
Most zoonotic diseases are not reportable nationally or by state, so no complete measurement of the petassociated zoonotic disease burden exists. Only some 3,000 to 4,000 serum specimens from patients with presumptive diagnoses of toxocariasis are sent yearly for diagnostic confirmation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to public and private laboratories. Yet millions of human infections of Toxocara larval migrans are ultimately suspected in the United States each year.1
Zoonotic disease prevention is a challenge to health care professionals, and that includes veterinarians. Parasitic infections are not the bond your clients want to share with their dogs and cats.
Companion Animal Parasite Guidelines Address Prevention of Zoonotic Infections
It is for this reason that the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) was formed. CAPC, an independent group of leaders representing parasitology, epidemiology, and veterinary and human medicine, was established to promote animal and human health through recommendations on the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and control of parasitic infections. As a member, I share CAPC’s goal of preserving and strengthening the humananimal bond while minimizing the risk of zoonotic infection.
From our collective experience in human and animal health, CAPC members know well how zoonoses can threaten the health of cats and dogs and their owners— and the unconditional love that dogs and cats offer, particularly for children. To help protect the unique relationship of dogs and cats and their human family, our recently announced guidelines lead with the recommendation that all family pets be treated year-round with broad-spectrum heartworm anthelmintics that also protect against intestinal nematodes.
Client Education + Preventive Protocols = Reduced Zoonotic Risks
Efforts to reduce the risks of zoonotic transmission need support at all levels—national, state, and community. The recently released CAPC Guidelines focus on a comprehensive parasite prevention program that seeks to raise veterinarian and pet owner awareness of the risks posed by zoonoses. I believe that most of you would agree with the comprehensive nature of the protocols and their capacity to prevent zoonotic infection. Frank conversations with pet owners on the need for year-round, broad-spectrum parasiticide administration and the importance of compliance could and should become normative behavior. Through such efforts, I believe we can improve prevention of parasitic infections in our communities, thus helping ensure the health and happiness of dogs, cats and people.
Some veterinarians might prefer not to hear or talk about risks associated with pet ownership. But the cost of silence is too great. It is, after all, our children who live and play in closest proximity to pets and their environments and are, consequently, most vulnerable to accidental infections. This is why it is imperative that veterinarians—as respected professionals in the community—actively engage in efforts to educate clients and prescribe preventive measures that will ultimately reduce zoonotic risks. Linking your client’s health with responsible dog and cat care offers an excellent way to approach this topic, while enhancing the service you provide your clients. CDC is committed to helping reduce and eliminate these infections that are entirely preventable. For more information, see CDC’s Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/index.htm
The CAPC Guidelines were initially released at the 2004 North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Mary Bartlett, health communications specialist in parasitic diseases, CDC, contributed to this article.
1 Schantz PM. Toxocara larva migrans now. Am J Trop Med Hyg 1989;41(3)(Suppl):21–34.