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Pets - Health And Safety Issues

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Veterinary Care

Increasing pet ownership has resulted in greater demand for veterinary care. The AVMA represents the interests of more than 64,000 veterinarians. Nearly 30,000 of the veterinarians work exclusively with small animals in private practice. There are twenty-seven colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that had a combined enrollment of 9,363 students during the 2002–03 school year.

According to the AVMA's 2001 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, dog owners were far more likely to visit the vet than cat owners. Only 25% of cat owners visited the vet at least once per year, compared with 83% of dog owners. Nearly half of dogs and cats were more than six years old. This percentage is up significantly from the 1987 census, indicating that pets are living longer lives. The AVMA credits better living conditions, health care, and nutrition as reasons for pets' growing life spans. Also, statistics indicate that more people are adopting older pets than ever before. The APPMA reports that pet owners spent $7.9 billion in 2003 on veterinary services and were expected to spend $8.3 billion during 2004.

Many devoted pet owners are willing to spend thousands of dollars on specialized medical services for their pets. Organ transplants, chemotherapy, and other expensive procedures are becoming more commonplace for pets. According to the AVMA, the number of animal cardiologists in the United States increased by 75% between 1996 and 2002.

The APPMA 2003/2004 National Pet Owners Survey found that approximately one million U.S. pet owners had purchased veterinary health insurance.

Risks to People

The largest health risks to people from pets are zoonoses and animal bites. Zoonoses are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Scientists report that there are more than 250 distinct zoonoses that have been documented in medical literature. Zoonoses can occur in domesticated and wild animals. However, zoo-noses in livestock, cats, and dogs are well known, heavily researched, and largely controlled through vaccination programs. Diseases passed to humans from most other animals, particularly exotic pets, are a different matter. Little is known about them, and they are more difficult to control.

TABLE 9.12
Zoonoses and potential zoonoses of concern in hedgehogs
SOURCE: Patricia Y. Riley, and Bruno B. Chomel, "Table. Zoonotic and Potentially Zoonotic Viral, Bacterial, Protozoal, and Mycotic Zoonoses of Hedgehogs," in Hedgehog Zoonoses, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2005, http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol11no01/04-0752.htm (accessed March 15, 2005)

Bacterial Viral Protozoal Mycotic
I. Confirmed zoonotic diseases carried by hedgehogs: Salmonella spp.
Yersinia pseudotuberculosis
Mycobacterium marinum
Rabies
Herpesvirus, including human herpes simplex
Trychophyton mentagrophytes var. erinacei
Microsporum spp.
II. Potential zoonotic diseases carried by hedgehogs: Chlamydia psittaci
Coxiella burnetii
Yersinia pestis
Aboviruses
    Tickborne encephalitis
    Crimean-Congo
    Hemorrhagic fever
    Tahyna virus
    Bhanja virus
Paramyxovirus
Cryptosporidium
Toxoplasma gondii
Candida albicans

In May 2003 an outbreak of monkeypox in the Midwest captured widespread media attention. Monkey-pox is a disease that is related to smallpox but not nearly as lethal. Scientists believe that several people caught monkeypox from pet prairie dogs, which in turn had caught the disease from infected Gambian rats. The import of all African rats was subsequently banned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health experts fear that other zoonoses not previously seen in the United States will emerge unless the trade in wild and exotic pets is curtailed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, tracks infectious diseases and is increasingly worried about zoonoses. In January 2005 a CDC report noted that "overall, ownership of exotic pets should not be encouraged because exotic animals and wildlife do not usually make good pets and can transmit zoonotic agents." This statement was included in a study on known and potential zoonotic diseases associated with pet hedgehogs. The report estimated that 40,000 hedgehogs were kept as pets in the United States. Table 9.12 lists the various types of zoo-noses researchers believe are present in hedgehogs.

SALMONELLOSIS.

In 2004 the CDC reviewed historical data related to Salmonella infections reported in medical literature. Salmonellosis, an infection caused by the bacteria Salmonella, can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps in patients for several days. Although it does not generally require hospitalization, it can be quite serious for patients with weak immune systems, children, and the elderly. Approximately 1.4 million people become infected with Salmonellosis each year and about 600 of them die from it.

The infection is caused by eating contaminated food or through direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians, such as lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs, and newts. Salmonellae occur naturally in the gastrointestinal TABLE 9.13
CDC recommendations for preventing transmission of Salmonella from reptiles and amphibians to humans
SOURCE: Jonathan Mermin, Lori Hutwagner, Duc Vugia, Sue Shallow, Pamela Daily, Jeffrey Bender, Jane Koehler, Ruthanne Marcus, and Frederick J. Angulo, "Table 4. Recommendations for Preventing Transmission of Salmonella from Reptiles and Amphibians to Humans," in "Reptiles, Amphibians, and Human Salmonella Infection: A Population-Based, Case-Control Study," Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 38, supplement 3, 2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/animals/reptiles.htm (accessed March 15, 2005)

Pet store owners, health care practitioners, and veterinarians should provide information to owners and potential purchasers of reptiles and amphibians about the risk of acquiring salmonellosis from their pets.
Persons should always wash their hands with soap and water after handling reptiles and amphibians or their cages.
Persons at increased risk for infection with serious complications from salmonellosis (e.g., children <5 years old and immunocompromised persons) should avoid contact with reptiles and amphibians.
Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of households containing children <5 years old or immunocompromised persons; families expecting a new child should give their pet reptiles and amphibians away before the infant arrives.
Reptiles and amphibians should not be kept in child-care centers.
Reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the house.
Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of kitchens and other food preparation areas to prevent contamination; kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe pets or to wash their dishes, cages, or aquariums; if bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterwards.

tracts of these animals. The CDC examined hundreds of case reports and concluded that approximately 5% of the cases were zoonotic. Extrapolating on a national basis means that approximately 74,000 of the people contracting Salmonellosis each year are infected by reptiles and amphibians. According to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, iguana lizards and turtles are the major sources of salmonella infection in children. Table 9.13 shows the CDC's recommendations for preventing transmission of Salmonellae from pet reptiles and amphibians to humans.

FIGURE 9.5
Breakdown of patients treated in hospital emergency rooms for nonfatal dog bites, 2001
SOURCE: Adapted from "Number, Percentage, and Rate of Nonfatal Dog Bite-Related Injuries Treated in U.S. Hospital Emergency Departments, by Selected Characteristics, 2001," in "Nonfatal Dog Bite-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments—United States, 2001," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vol.52, no. 26, 2003, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5226a1.htm (accessed March 15, 2004)

PET TIGER ATTACKS.

PETA reported in its publication Tigers: America's Latest Homeless "Pet" (available on the Web site of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition at http://www.cwapc.org/education/download/TigersBrochure_loresPETA.pdf) that, since 1990, captive tigers have killed six adults and two children, and have seriously injured at least sixty others.

DOG BITES.

According to the CDC, approximately 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. More than half of the victims are children. Up to 800,000 people seek medical attention for dog bites annually and approximately twelve die from their wounds. According to an estimate on the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Web site in 2003, intact (unneutered) male dogs account for nearly three-fourths of reported dog bite incidents.

In a July 2003 report, the CDC examined emergency room case records for nonfatal dog bites occurring during 2001 (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5226a1.htm). The report found that 368,245 people sought treatment in hospital emergency rooms for dog bites. The breakdown by patient age is shown in Figure 9.5. Children under the age of fourteen accounted for 40% of the cases. Overall, the data indicated that dog bites occurred mostly during the warm months, primarily during July. Although nearly half of all injuries were to the arms and hands, children were most likely to be bitten in the head or neck. Puncture and laceration wounds were the most common types of injuries. The CDC noted that an estimated sixty-eight million dogs were kept as pets during 2001.

Although this report did not note the breeds of dogs associated with the bite injuries, breed information has been collected by the CDC for fatal injuries from dog bites. After examining the records for 279 fatalities due to dog bites from 1979 through 1996, the CDC concluded that the dog breed (or primary cross breed) could be identified in 199 of the cases. Pit bulls were blamed for seventy of the attacks; Rottweilers accounted for thirty-two fatalities; German shepherds caused thirty deaths; huskies were associated with another twenty fatalities; and wolf hybrids were blamed for fourteen deaths. Other breeds identified with fatal dog attacks included Alaskan malamutes, Doberman pinschers, Chows, Great Danes, St. Bernards, and Akitas. The report noted that unaltered dogs (particularly males) were more likely to bite than spayed/neutered dogs.

Public fears about aggressive dogs have led some jurisdictions around the country to ban particular dog breeds. In June 2004 National Geographic Magazine reported that around 200 cities and towns had restricted or prohibited ownership of certain breeds (Maryann Mott, "Breed-Specific Bans Spark Constitutional Dogfight," June 17, 2004). The most frequently targeted breeds (or breed mixes) were pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, German shepherds, Chows, Akitas, and Great Danes. The article noted that bans were often passed after fatal dog attacks occur. Some jurisdictions ban breeds outright, while others require owners to carry liability insurance or muzzle their animals in public.

Many animal protection organizations and industry groups, including the American Kennel Club and the ASPCA, are opposed to breed-specific legislation. They believe that irresponsible breeders and pet owners should be targeted instead, particularly those that train dogs to be aggressive or refuse to keep their dogs fenced or on leashes. Better enforcement of existing animal control legislation is seen as a more effective measure than breed-specific bans. An Ohio law passed in 1987 deemed pit bulls to be "vicious" dogs, but they were not banned. Owners were required to carry $100,000 liability insurance policies and properly confine and control their dogs at all times.

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