How protecting your dog’s health also protects yours

At Public Health, we usually leave dog-related health issues to our friends in the veterinary community, but when furry companions start getting people sick, our ears perk up.

 dog animals shiba inu akita ear flicker GIF

Our epidemiologists and veterinarians specialize in zoonotic diseases – diseases caused by germs that can be spread from animals to humans. We want your pup to be healthy because healthy dogs are happy dogs and happy dogs make the best internet videos. But, we also want your four-legged friends to be healthy because when they are protected against certain diseases, so are you!

To learn more about how protecting your dog’s health can protect your health, we caught up with Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Beth Lipton.

Beth, which diseases can we catch from our four-legged friends?
Quite a few, actually. We see people getting bacterial diseases like campylobacteriosis and leptospirosis, viral diseases like rabies, and parasites like worms. These are just a few on a long list, but luckily, many of them are preventable through vaccination or other risk-reduction measures, along with good hygiene (human hygiene, that is).

Let’s break this down a bit. First, tell us a little more about dog vaccinations that protect humans too.
Vaccinations are an important part of a dog’s health care routine, and they not only protect the dog from serious, and sometimes life-threatening diseases, but they also help protect people and other dogs who are around the dog. While all dogs need several vaccines to protect their health, there are two that also protect human health.

  1. Rabies is at the top of my list. All dogs should be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months of age, and owners should keep up with booster doses. This isn’t just my recommendation – it’s the law. Untreated rabies is always fatal for animals and humans, and by the time symptoms show, it’s too late. This is true for cats too! Cats have a reputation for getting involved with bats, which can be infected with the rabies virus, so make sure all your pets are up to date, even if they spend all of their time indoors.
  2. Leptospirosis is an emerging disease. Many animals, including rodents, raccoons, cattle, pigs, and dogs, can carry the Leptospira bacteria and pass them in their urine, and they might not appear ill. Soil or water contaminated with infected urine are the most common causes of human infection but the disease can also be spread by direct contact with urine from an infected animal. The disease can have a high fatality rate in dogs but early diagnosis and treatment improves the chances for recovery. In humans, leptospirosis can cause a wide range of symptoms and lead to serious illness and potentially death if untreated. Dog owners should definitely discuss this vaccine with their veterinarian.

Also, keep in mind that some people are more susceptible to zoonotic disease. Children under 5 years of age, older adults, and immuno-compromised people are at a higher risk. As with human vaccines, it’s not just about protecting yourself or your pets – it’s also about protecting those people who might be more vulnerable.

I’ve been planning to get my dog vaccinated for months, but I keep forgetting about it. Is that okay?
No! It takes some time to build immunity after a vaccine so it’s not a good idea to wait for an outbreak and then get your animal vaccinated in hopes that they will be protected. There is a chance they may have been exposed by the time the vaccine starts working. Make an appointment with your vet today! Your pets and your health (and those funny dog videos you referenced) are too important.

What about dog diseases that don’t spread to humans?
Again, I urge you to get your dog (and cats!) vaccinated according to your veterinarian’s recommendations. Some ‘lifestyle’ vaccines, such as for Bordetella and canine influenza, are important if your dog likes to visit dog parks, boarding or daycare facilities, or if they commonly interact with other dogs. Puppies should be kept away from other dogs until they are fully vaccinated. You wouldn’t send a (human) child to school without immunizations, so don’t treat your fur babies any differently.

In addition to vaccines, what is your advice for preventing the spread of zoonotic disease?
Many diseases are not preventable by vaccine in either animals or humans, such as campylobacteriosis, salmonella, and several parasitic infections. But, there is a lot you can and should do to prevent them. Here are some key steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after contact with your pet including, petting it, or touching its saliva or stool. That’s my number one prevention tip! Help your children learn to make handwashing a habit and help them if they are younger than five years of age.
  • Avoid dogs that you don’t know, and be careful to prevent dog and cat bites or scratches. Learn about animal behavior and how to ‘read’ what they are trying to tell us.
  • Clean up dog poop carefully and dispose of it properly.
  • Notice and take your dog to the vet if it becomes lethargic or depressed, or has diarrhea or other signs of illness. It’s particularly important to watch a new puppy or dog carefully after you have brought it home.
  • Make sure your pets are up-to-date on heartworm, flea and tick prevention and deworming. Fleas, ticks and other parasites are nasty vectors for disease that can spread to you too.

This isn’t just good advice for preventing zoonotic disease – it’s good advice for preventing any infectious disease. For more information about zoonotic disease prevention, download our brochure.

What is Public Health’s role in preventing dog-related zoonotic disease?
We regulate pet businesses – everything from pet shops to mobile grooming facilities and pet food retailers. We even joined forces with our food program to co-permit several “cat cafes” in King County. These establishments are permitted and inspected by our staff to ensure proper zoonotic disease prevention measures are taken. We also work with members of the public who have found dead or injured bats that may be infected with rabies to determine if human or animal post-exposure vaccination is necessary.