Tough love

Should we skip the pet kisses to protect our health?
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Jul 01, 2012


Brendan Howard
Nobody sees the web of life like you. Consider summer. The weather changes, the parasites multiply, your patients are itching and at risk, and your clients fret.

Who else but veterinarians deal with three or more animal species (I'm including Homo sapiens) every day on an intimate level—pushing, prodding, looking, listening?

Who sees how those different animals compare—the domestic dog and cat, the outdoor raccoon and squirrel, the caged parrot and soaring raven, the meandering cow and the fretful horse, the fluttering Betta fish and the slithering boa?

It's no wonder that when you see someone kissing a dog on the May 2012 cover of Veterinary Economics, you gasp. (Missed it? See the cover again.) You know a cat, a dog, or worse may bite or scratch if people get up in their faces, snout to snout. You also know what lives on, in, and around these species. "Don't you know what you can catch from doing that?" you counsel.

It's a good question. That's why it was a treat to receive letters from your colleagues calling us out on our cover and our suggestion that hospital employees consider smooching their patients. The article's author, Dr. Christina Winn, does a fine job of explaining why she suggested kissing Rover or Fluffy in the first place.

But I want to dig deeper. Do prudent and cautious veterinarians also regularly remind clients how dangerous their pets' mouths, fur, and paws can be? When there was an outbreak of people sick with Salmonella from turtles bought from street vendors, the preventive suggestions poured in. Most common—wash your hands ­after touching your turtle, your turtle's cage, your turtle's feces ... ­really, anything around your turtle. But would you suggest the same to your cat owners, dog owners, and bird owners? If we can't kiss the dog, does it harm the bond between pet and pet owner—the bond that veterinarians depend on to motivate pet owners to do the very best for their pets?

Many pets today eat in the same kitchens, sleep in the same bedrooms, travel on the same vacations, and share the same familial affection of their human family members. Zoonoses could surely become more prevalent. Is all that emotional closeness worth the risk?

That's for every one of you—and every one of your clients—to think about, to weigh the dangers of illness and the benefits of close connections, skin to fur, paw in hand.

I know where I fall. Up until my wife's allergies grew really bad in the past few years, we both sniffled and sneezed our way through mild but perpetual allergies to hang onto our two-to-five-cat menagerie at home. We were mildly sick all the time, but it didn't matter. It was worth it. I liked smelling their fur, earthy and mellow. I liked smelling their breath when they'd rub their faces on mine. And I enjoyed taking them to a cat-only clinic that loved and cared for them.

How do you walk the line between the risks of pet ownership and the physical bond you enjoy with pets?




E-mail and let me know.

Brendan Howard, Editor