Client education

Educating clients on the importance of regular visits to their veterinarian and appropriate preventive measures, such as vaccination, endo- and ectoparasite control, and good overall health of their pets, is the best way to prevent the spread of disease.

In addition to general infectious disease education, clients should be informed on zoonotic risks relevant to their pets, themselves, and family members. Key pathogens to highlight for clients include but are not limited to common endoparasites (e.g., hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms), dermatophytosis, toxoplasmosis, geographically relevant ectoparasite-transmitted diseases, rabies, Salmonella, and Campylobacter spp.60 Some diseases, although not transmitted directly from the pet to humans, still demand appropriate control methods such as avoiding exposure to vector-borne diseases via shared contact with the pet or its environment. For example, fleas are easily transferred between animals and humans. Environmental or on-animal infestations, particularly in homes with young children, carry a risk of zoonosis for flea-borne diseases, such as Bartonella infection. Although there is not a direct zoonotic risk from ticks attached to a pet, they should be disposed of carefully when removed, and owners of these pets should take caution of similar risks to themselves and others in the household due to encountering ticks in the same environments as their pet.61

It is possible to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases with appropriate preventive care including routine veterinary visits for annual exams, vaccinations, overall health assessment, as well as flea and tick control as indicated by their area. Fecal exams for detection of intestinal parasites should be performed as indicated by the patient age, geographical location, and parasite exposure risk.

Further owner considerations in preventing zoonotic diseases include the practice of good personal hygiene, particularly hand hygiene after handling pets; handling pet food and treats, especially when it includes an uncooked meat product; and always before eating. Litter boxes, pet dishes, pet beds, and toys should be kept clean. Cat litter boxes should be cleaned regularly (daily if higher  risk persons are in the household). In the case of households with dogs, cleaning up pet feces should be done regularly (e.g., at least weekly) to reduce environmental contamination with pathogens. Feces should be disposed of in a waste receptacle, not in recyclable waste or compost. Additional pet “messes” (vomitus, stool, and urine) should be cleaned up, disposed of accordingly, and surfaces disinfected. Hands should be thoroughly washed afterward; gloves can be used to provide an extra level of protection. Pets should be fed a high-quality diet, avoiding raw or undercooked diets. Hunting for food sources, including garbage or table scraps, should also be discouraged. Additional pet behaviors that can pose increased zoonotic disease risks and should be discouraged are drinking from the toilet, eating feces (own or of other animals), and drinking standing water.

Pets should not be permitted to have contact with wild animals. Owners of pets likely to have contact with wild animals (e.g., predominately outdoor, hunting) should be informed of these increased risks and, when possible, preventive measures taken to reduce pet and owner health risks (e.g., endo- or ectoparasite prevention, rabies vaccination, preventing consumption of wildlife). Potentially contaminated environments or situations in which exposure risks are unknown, including interactions with animals with unknown vaccination or parasite status, should be avoided. Additional suggestions for prevention of infection include regular pet grooming and bathing, maintaining short nails to prevent scratches, and spaying and neutering to prevent roaming, which can increase risk of disease exposure and transmission.60

Immunocompromised people have an increased risk of acquiring zoonotic diseases, including those transmitted by pets. Those individuals who are <5 or >65 yr of age; pregnant; diabetic; have HIV-infection; are undergoing immunosuppressive chemotherapy, organ transplantation, or treatment for autoimmune diseases; or have other conditions for which their physician has indicated that they are at an increased risk for infections should take greater caution.62 Immunocompromised clients should be advised of modifiable behaviors that reduce their risk for pet-associated infections, with particular emphasis on always performing hand hygiene after pet contact, discouraging pets from face-licking, and not having contact with pet feces (i.e., ideally have an immunocompetent household member perform this duty). Regular cleaning and disinfection of cages, food areas, bedding, and toys should be performed by an immunocompetent individual who observes strict hand hygiene. Immunocompromised people should avoid contact with amphibians, reptiles, rodents, exotic animals, strays, young animals, and any animal suspected to be infectious (e.g., with acute vomiting, diarrhea, skin disease), as well as items that have been in contact with these animals.

A key to infection control success in the household and community is client compliance with risk reduction strategies. This requires active involvement and cooperation of the clinical team and the client. Clients should be provided with handouts in addition to face-to-face counseling on prevalent local infectious diseases of importance. Pet owners can also be directed to online resources such as the Companion Animal Parasite Council, the CDC’s Healthy Pets Healthy PeopleWorms and Germs Blog’s resources for pets), the DVM360’s handout on parasites and AAHA's resource center

These guidelines are supported by a generous educational grant from Virox Animal Health™.