Preventing zoonotic diseases

To reduce the risk for pets and people, the new thinking should be, "We're all in this together."
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Aug 01, 2008
By dvm360.com staff


Top 5 zoonotic diseases in dogs and cats
Just 5 percent of total feline visits to Banfield practices in 2007 resulted in a diagnosis of a zoonotic disease, and only 3.5 percent of total canine visits resulted in the same diagnosis. But these relatively low numbers hint at two somewhat disconcerting side stories.

First, people are at an increased risk for zoonotic diseases. Over the past 30 years, about 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in people have been zoonotic, according to a July 15, 2008, article in JAVMA. The same article calls for veterinarians to work beside physicians to decrease the threat through the AVMA's One Health Initiative. Controlling zoonotic disease in the pet population is the first step. According to the Banfield data, you're getting that job done, right? Well, sort of.

Even though the prevalence is low (see table), most of the top zoonotic diseases in dogs and cats are preventable. This means veterinarians could be deworming and recommending flea and tick control products even more often. It's up to veterinarians to educate clients about how to halt the spread of zoonotic diseases, such as explaining the importance of a simple handwashing.

What's my role in zoonotic disease prevention?

Veterinarians must view the medical care they provide as part of the whole family's health, says Dr. Elizabeth Lund, PhD, senior director of research at Banfield, the Pet Hospital. Pets are intimate partners in our lives, so we share our environments with them more freely than we have in the past. Which means that when it comes to disease prevention, veterinarians must think of themselves as being part of a larger effort.

Wellness care is a primary focus at Banfield hospitals—and Dr. Lund hopes the same is true at all private practices. "Preventive medicine, like vaccinations, deworming, and flea and tick prevention, isn't as challenging as diagnosing diabetes or Cushing's disease, for instance," she says. "But the most important thing we can do is to keep pets healthy through regular preventive care."