Pets and petting zoos
Pets are like family members in many Canadian households, but like all animals, they can carry dangerous organisms. You can come into contact with harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites when you play with and clean up after your pets, handle pet food, and when you visit a petting zoo.
Diseases called "zoonoses" can be passed from animals to humans or from humans to animals. Some zoonoses are very dangerous to humans including:
- infection with E. coli O157:H7
These diseases can be especially dangerous for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. If left untreated, they can even be deadly.
How zoonoses are transmitted from animals to humans
Animals can transmit harmful organisms in several ways:
- scratches, bites and saliva
- feces and fecal dust
- coughs, sneezes or mucus
You can also get sick from handling your pet's food and treats. This can happen when the food is contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella bacteria.
If you get these harmful organisms on your hands, you could spread them to your face, mouth, eyes or your food. If you have touched an animal, their toys, their food and treats or cleaned up after them, wash your hands right away before touching anything else!
Four ways to protect yourself and your family
1. Keep your pet healthy
- Take your pet to the veterinarian regularly and have it checked for diseases.
- Keep your pet clean and its claws trimmed (if applicable).
- Beware of what your pet eats: garbage, raw meat and water from the toilet bowl can be dangerous.
- Keep away from wild animals: you and your pet can catch diseases from wild animals and their feces. Don't forget that squirrels and other rodents can be dangerous too.
2. Watch out for animal waste
- Use waterproof, disposable gloves and wear a mask when cleaning cages, litter boxes, animal pens and fish tanks.
- Clean cages, boxes and pens daily. Put feces in a plastic bag then in the garbage.
- Never use pet feces for fertilizer or compost: it can carry dangerous organisms!
- Cover your child's sandbox since cats like to use sandboxes as litter boxes.
Pregnant women should not be exposed to cat litter boxes since these might be contaminated with parasites harmful to the fetus.
3. Keep clean
- After touching your pet and its toys, water from its container or aquarium, or its treats or food, wash your hands well with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Do this before touching your face and before handling food.
- Keep pets away from food preparation, storage and dining areas.
Some reptile foods such as frozen or defrosted mice, rats and chicks can contain Salmonella and be a potential source of infection for both the reptile and its owners. Handwashing is very important to protect yourself.
4. Take care at petting zoos
- Handwashing is your best defence! After you touch, always wash your hands!
Reptiles (like turtles, lizards and snakes) and amphibians (like newts, frogs and toads) can shed Salmonella bacteria on their skin or in the water.
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