If you're a pet owner, you might think there is nothing better than snuggling up with your dog on a cold night or being greeted with a slobbery kiss. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control warns that getting too close to your dog or cat can increase your risk of a dangerous infection. Here, a brief guide:
What can you catch from your pet?
A number of "unlikely" conditions have been caused by sleeping with, kissing, or getting licked by a pet, according to a report published in the Centers for Disease Control journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. There are reports of a 30-year-old woman repeatedly getting strep from her dogs, a 40-something man who repeatedly contracted Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) thanks to his pooch, nearly two dozen instances of "cat-associated" cases of the plague, and numerous babies who contracted meningitis after being licked by a dog. Many people also got hookworms and roundworms from their pets. The findings "might make you think twice about snuggling up next to your dog tonight," says Katie Moisse at ABC News.
How common is this?
While pet lovers should be aware of the potential for infection, it's rare. "It's difficult to interpret this report without an idea of how many millions of people had a dog lick their ear and didn't get an infection," says Dr. William Karesh, a veterinarian and the EVP of health and policy at EcoHealth Alliance. Another veterinarian, Dr. Rod Ferguson, also says there just are not a lot of instances of pet-to-human transmission. "There's not many things that a dog is going to give people," he says. "People usually give to people. Dogs usually give to dogs."
How concerned should pet owners be?
Not very. While small children and those with weakened immune systems should be cautious, "for the majority of people in the U.S., it's probably more dangerous to sleep in a bed than it is to sleep with your pet," Karesh says, given that some 450 people die each year from falling out of bed.
How many people share their beds with their dogs anyway?
Pet ownership has been on the rise for decades. The 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey found that 45.6 million American households owned a dog, and 38.2 million owned a cat. And, according to ABC News, other surveys suggest that 50 percent of dog owners and 75 percent of cat owners sleep with their pets.
What can pet owners do to lessen the risk of disease?
Dr. Ferguson recommends taking some precautions, like not letting your dog lick your face, and keeping your animal in good condition. "Keep your animal healthy and as clean as you can, so it's hygienic in the house just like you are." Dr. Karesh says that it's important to keep up with your pets' vaccinations and keep them free of parasites. And Nikki Moustaki, a New York woman who repeatedly got strep throat thanks to her dogs, found relief after she started wiping her animals' paws with baby wipes after each walk, per her doctor's orders.