Many studies show the health benefits of dog ownership. Dogs not only provide comfort and companionship, but several studies have found that dogs decrease stress and promote relaxation. Dogs have positive impacts on nearly all life stages. They influence social, emotional, and cognitive development in children, promote an active lifestyle and have even been able to detect oncoming epileptic seizures or the presence of certain cancers. But for all the positive benefits of keeping dogs, pet owners should be aware that dogs can carry germs that make people sick.

Although germs from dogs rarely spread to people, they might cause a variety of illnesses, ranging from minor skin infections to serious diseases. To protect yourself and your family from getting sick:

  • Seek routine veterinary care for your pet and
  • Always wash your hands and the hands of children with running water and soap after contact with dogs, their stool, and their food.

By providing your pet with routine veterinary care and some simple health tips, you are less likely to get sick from touching, petting, or owning dogs in the United States.

Click the tabs above for more information about choosing dogs, a list of diseases people can get from dogs, and information on how to keep yourself and your pet dogs healthy.

Healthy habits

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water after contact with dogs, dog saliva, or dog stool. Be sure to assist children with handwashing. Thoroughly washing hands will reduce the risk of disease transmission to people.
  • Avoid bites and scratches from dogs. Dog bites might become seriously infected or might be a source of rabies. Be cautious with unfamiliar animals. Approach dogs with care, even if they seem friendly.
  • Pick up and dispose of dog stools, especially in areas where children might play. Cleaning up after your dog will help keep the area clean and reduce the risk of spreading the disease to people or other animals.
  • Visit your veterinarian for routine evaluation and care to keep your dog healthy and to prevent infectious diseases.

Tips for preventing dog-associated diseases

Before choosing a dog

  • Certain types of dog or puppy adoptions, like international pet adoption, might not be suitable for your family because of the risk of disease. This is particularly true if young children, pregnant women, or persons with weak immune systems are living in the household. Persons with weak immune systems may include the elderly or people with an illness such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS, or those undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Research and learn how to properly care for your dog before purchase or adoption. Ask your veterinarian about the proper food, care, and environment that are best for the dog you are selecting.
  • Be aware that dogs might shed CampylobacterGiardia, hookworms, roundworms, and other germs in their stool. Plan to clean up after your pet frequently. Wash your and your child’s hands thoroughly with soap and water after feeding or cleaning up behind dogs.

Choosing a dog

  • Match a dog’s attitude, temperament, size, and activity level with your family, your home, and the amount of time you have to spend with your pet.
  • Pick a dog that is bright, alert, and playful. Dogs and puppies should have shiny, soft fur that is free of stool. Signs of illness in a dog include appearing sluggish or depressed, having diarrhea, abnormal breathing, and fluid running from its eyes or nose. Make sure to take your new dog or puppy to the veterinarian within a few days to a week after adoption for a health visit.
  • If your dog becomes sick or dies soon after purchase or adoption, take your dog to the veterinarian promptly, and inform the pet store, breeder, or rescue organization about the pet’s illness or death. Make sure to tell your veterinarian if the pet was adopted internationally. Thoroughly clean the area occupied by your pet, and consider waiting at least a few weeks before purchasing or adopting another pet.

Housing your dog

  • It is important that you provide a safe, warm, and comfortable environment for your dog to live in.
    • If your dog will be housed outside, provide shelter such as a doghouse for when it is cold or rainy and shade for when it is hot. Protecting your dog from the changes in weather will reduce stress and help keep it healthy.
  • Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water every day.
  • Consider fencing in your yard rather than tying your dog outside. A fence will not only give your pet room to play but also will protect it from wild animals and reduce the risk of strangers interacting with your dog. Several studies have shown that dogs on a chain are more likely to bite than those in a fenced yard.
  • If your dog is in a kennel, make sure to clean it regularly to prevent build-up of feces and possible spread of disease.

Monitor your pet’s health

  • Visit a veterinarian for routine evaluation and care to keep your dog healthy and prevent infectious diseases. Keeping your dog on a monthly preventative for fleas, heartworms, and other parasites, and up to date on vaccinations can help prevent certain diseases.
  • Make sure to clean up any urine, feces, or vomit in the house immediately, and disinfect the area well. Use disposable gloves and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Contact your veterinarian if you notice any signs of illness in your pet. Keep in mind that even a dog that appears healthy might spread germs to humans and other animals.

Dog Bites

Preventing dog bites

About 4.5 million Americans receive dog bites each year, many of which require immediate medical attention. Young children 5 to 9 years old are most likely to bitten by dogs, with boys being bitten more often than girls.

What to do if you are bitten or scratched by a dog

Germs can be spread from dog bites and scratches, even if the wound does not seem deep or serious. If a bite from a dog occurs, you should—

  • Wash wounds with warm soapy water immediately.
  • Seek medical attention:
    • If you don’t know if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies
    • If the dog appears sick or is acting strangely
    • If the wound is serious (uncontrolled bleeding, loss of function, extreme pain, muscle or bone exposure, etc.)
    • If the wound becomes red, painful, warm or swollen, or if you develop a fever
    • If it has been more than 5 years since your last tetanus shot
    • If you have any concerns about your or your child’s health
  • Report the bite to your local animal control or health department.
    • If possible, contact the owner and ensure the animal has a current rabies vaccination. You will need the rabies vaccine license number, name of the veterinarian that administered the vaccine, and the owner’s name, address, and phone number.
  • Due to the risk of rabies, ensure that the dog is seen by a veterinarian and contact your local health department if it becomes sick or dies within 10 days of the bite.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

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