Pets enhance our lives in many ways. It isn’t surprising though, that having a pet can also have adverse effects on our well being. Fortunately this isn’t common.

Dogs and cats are the worst offenders. Our beloved four legged family members can carry fleas, and these little parasites aren’t fussy; they’re just as happy to drink our blood as our pet’s. When a flea bites us, it can lead to a red raised itchy lesion on our skin. If we scratch it too much, it can become infected, and need antibiotics. It’s easy to prevent this by keeping your pet flea free.

There are worse health risks from your dog or cat. These pets can be infected with intestinal worms including roundworm and hookworm. They can be spread to humans, and children are more at risk because they tend not to be as meticulous about washing their hands. Worm eggs are passed out in the animal’s feces, and our children can be inadvertently affected by putting dirty fingers in their mouths. Because human beings are not the worm’s natural host, their life cycle is not normal.

Hookworm larvae crawl around under our skin, leading to red, itchy rashes called cutaneous larva migrans. This is a nuisance, but not nearly as dangerous as if we are infected with roundworm larvae. They have a preference for migrating through the brain, eye or liver causing damage to these organs. This is known as visceral larva migrans. Many children each year are blinded by migrating roundworm larvae.

There are two important steps in preventing this devastating disease in our children. Firstly, regularly worming our dogs and cats will keep them free of intestinal worms, so there won’t be any eggs passed into our children’ s environment. Secondly, teach your children the importance of washing their hands, especially after playing in the dirt or cuddling their pet.

Cats can become infected with Chlamydia, and this results in a severe conjunctivitis. Their third eyelid swells, and there is often a sticky discharge from the eyes. There have been reports of this being spread to people, and also causing conjunctivitis in them. Fortunately, it happens very rarely and if your cat is being treated for Chlamydia, personal hygiene is the key to your avoiding infection.

If you own a bird, you may be at risk of psittacosis. This infection is also caused by Chlamydia, but a different species to that found in cats. People who keep pet birds are more at risk of infection, when they breathe in the bacteria from the droppings or feathers of infected birds. If you like to give your bird a kiss, then you may pick up the infection that way. This illness is characterized by flu like symptoms – fever, headaches, muscle aches and pains, and a cough. It can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s better to avoid becoming infected in the first place. Have any sick birds examined by your veterinarian, and again, wash your hands after handling your birds.

It’s often easy to prevent spread of infection between people by washing our hands and reducing our exposure to infective organisms. The same can be said about the spread of disease from our pets to ourselves. Common sense and personal hygiene will go a long way towards reducing any health risks from owning pets.