November 13, 2012

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

As a dog person, I have to say it comes as no surprise to me to learn that cats could, one day, kill us all. But Dick and Jane probably never saw this one coming. Apparently, they can see Spot run. And, if a new study out of the UK is correct, Dick and Jane might see Spot infect them with a deadly mutation of a strain of an infectious disease.

As the news has been littered with stories of avian bird flu, the West Nile virus and monkey pox over the past decade, we are all aware that most emerging infectious diseases that affect humans come from animals. These diseases are intensely monitored by a whole host of international health agencies, but they have a narrow focus on humans and livestock only. Until now, Fluffy and Fido, as they are companion animals, have gotten a pass. This new study recommends that a global system is established that monitors infectious diseases of companion dogs and cats.

Michael Day, Professor of Veterinary Pathology in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, led the study which was published online in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. In his study, he lists the key infectious diseases that may be transmitted man and his companion animals. These diseases are properly called ‘zoonotic diseases’. We know that most of the major new diseases that will affect mankind will have had their genesis among the animal population and Day feels that dogs and cats are a new potential source of such emerging diseases.

Joining Day in this clarion call for a new coordinated global monitoring system are such organizations as the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), One Health Committee (One Health), the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO). They all recommend the system be established for veterinarians who work specifically in small animal companion practices.

Simply calling for the creation of this system is not enough, however.  In addition to the necessity of political will, the scheme would also require scientific application and financial support. The study believes the finance aspect would probably best be addressed through a public-private partnership. It is clear that the information collected via surveillance would increase our basic knowledge of companion-borne pathogens. It would also allow for a more effective global control of those zoonoses, thus reducing the risks that are inherent in this fundamental human-companion relationship.

Just as an example, canine rabies virus infection, which is listed in the study, has been estimated to be responsible for the deaths of at least 55,000 people in Africa and Asia each year.

Day said, “The number of small companion animals is significant. For example there are an estimated eight to ten million dogs living in up to 31 per cent of UK homes and in the USA, 72 million dogs in 37 per cent of homes.

“In developed countries the relationship between man and dogs and cats has deepened, with these animals now closely sharing the human indoor environment. The benefits of pet ownership on human health, well-being and development are unquestionable, but as dogs and cats have moved from the barn, to the house, to the bedroom, the potential for disease spread to humans increases. Control of diseases among dogs and cats is a good way to prevent spread to humans.”

The most typical of the smaller companion animals are dogs and cats. These animals are typically kept for companionship. They also have filled roles in several utilitarian purposes. In both developed and developing communities, these animals have formed strong and close relationships with their human owners. It is clear that the social and societal benefits of pet ownership have been established. This is evidenced by service dogs and their work in institutions such as schools, prisons and hospitals, in addition to their role in general family life.

While human, livestock and wildlife health are intensely monitored and surveilled, looking specifically for infectious disease, there is no partner program for our smaller four-legged friends and that may be detrimental to us in the long run. This study has highlighted  the concern that not only the author, but several leading world health groups, share.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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