Pets and People Health

Family and their dog
A dog and his family.

Pet ownership offers people many benefits including unconditional love, companionship, a sense of purpose, and reduced stress and anxiety. Pets are also linked to:

  • Physical benefits that come with caring for an animal (walking it, playing with it)

  • Social benefits (meeting others when walking animals) and 

  • Health benefits (lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels)

Having a pet is not without some risk. Different animals can pose different health risks. Choose the right pet for your lifestyle, physical ability and personal health. 

Prevent Injury

Falls

Falls can happen when you trip over your pet, step over them, chase them, break up a fight, and when pets pull on leashes.

Prevent falls.

  • Be aware that pets can cause falls.

  • Be aware of where your pet is. A collar with a bell for a cat or even a small dog can help you hear when your pet is nearby.

  • Understand the importance of obedience training. Training can help reduce pet behaviors like pushing and pulling.

  • Keep pet toys and food bowls in places where they cannot cause trips and falls.

 

Bites and scratches

Bites and scratches can happen when animals are playing, are scared, guard their food or toys, don't feel well, or get startled. Young children are often victims of bites, especially dog bites. This is because young children are active, fast moving, can be noisy and unpredictable. They are also at a height that makes them a direct eye contact level with some dogs.

Prevent bites and scratches.

  •  Always supervise children with pets.

  • Teach children how to respect and interact with pets safely. Make sure children learn:

    • To ask an animal's owner before they pet

    • Not to kiss pets and to keep their face away from a pet's face

    • Not to bother pets when they are eating, sleeping and around their babies

  • Know what to do if someone is bitten or scratched by a pet.

Know when to report bites.

North Carolina law requires that owners of dogs, cats, and ferrets keep their pets up to date on rabies vaccines starting at 4 months of age. The law also requires that bites from these animals be reported to the local health department by:

  • The person who is bitten

  • The owner or person who has the biting animal

  • Doctors caring for people bitten by an animal known to be a possible carrier of rabies 

In Wake County, the Health and Human Services Communicable Disease Program (919-250-4462) investigates all bites to:

  • See of there is a possibility of exposure to rabies

  • Make sure the person(s) bitten get needed treatment (wound care, antibiotics, and tetanus vaccine) 

  • Make sure the person(s) bitten get rabies vaccine if there is a exposure to rabies

The Communicable Disease Program works closely with area animal control offices to make sure reported animals are watched for signs of rabies. 

 

Prevent Illness.

Diseases that are spread from animals to people are called zoonotic diseases. Even when they seem healthy, pets can carry germs that can cause disease in people. Some germs spread through bites and scratches. Others are spread through pet feces (poop). While any one can get these diseases, infants, young children, and people with weakened immune systems have a greater risk. 

Help prevent the spread of germs that can cause disease from pets:

Wash your hands.

Wash your hands after:

  • Touching or playing with your pet

  • Feeding your pet, handling its food, and cleaning food and water dishes

  • Handling pet habitats and equipment (cages, toys, bedding, tanks, etc.)

  • Cleaning up after pets and handling their waste

  • Leaving coops, barns, stalls, pens, and other places animals live (even if you don't touch an animal)

  • Removing soiled clothes and shoes

Keep your pet healthy.

Make sure your pet:

  • Has a good diet, fresh water, and clean bedding

  • Gets enough exercise

  • Gets regular veterinary care

    • Keep your pet's rabies and other vaccines up to date.

    • Keep your pet free from fleas, ticks, and worms.

    • Spay or neuter your pet.

Keep your pet from roaming freely without supervision. Keep them in your yard or on a leash.

Keep your pet away from wild animals that may carry disease.

Practice good hygiene with your pet.

Practicing good pet hygiene includes:

  • Cleaning up pet waste. Dog and cat feces (poop) can contain germs and worms that can spread to people. Use a bag to remove poop from your yard and public places. Dispose of it in proper areas. Don't forget to wash your hands after cleaning up pet waste.

  • Keeping children away from areas that may have pet waste. Keep sandboxes covered to keep cats out. Clean cat litter boxes every day. (Pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter boxes if possible.)

  • Not cleaning pet supplies and equipment in areas where food is prepared and eaten, or in the kitchen and bathroom sinks.

 

Leave wildlife alone.