January 8, 2007
Pets play a big role in the lives of millions who live in the United States and around the world.
"Pets love us unconditionally. They're also great for our health -- mentally and physically. Caring for pets can boost self-esteem, prevent loneliness, and even lower heart rate and blood pressure in some people. Growing up with a pet can be wonderful for kids. But remember that although the experience gives kids a sense of responsibility, only adults can be truly responsible for a pet. Selecting the right pet is a serious decision that family members should make together. A common mistake is bringing home a pet on an impulse without fully understanding the level of commitment involved. ... Before adopting or purchasing any pet, talk to all family members, discuss expectations and responsibilities, and take a realistic look at your family's lifestyle."
Whether considering the adoption of a pet, or caring for
one currently, it is important to be aware of the many
aspects of an animal's health, and how those factors can
affect the health of its owners. Many people consider the
allergies of those in the family before deciding on a pet,
but many other health issues are often overlooked.
"Like human foods, pet foods are regulated under the
Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and must be pure and
wholesome and contain no harmful substances. They also must
be truthfully labeled. Foods for human or pet consumption
do not require FDA approval before they are marketed, but
they must be made with ingredients that are 'generally
recognized as safe' (GRAS) or ingredients that are approved
food and color additives. If scientific data show that an
ingredient or additive presents a health risk to animals,
CVM [Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine] can prohibit or modify its use in pet food. ... Some
animal nutritionists recommend switching among two or three
different pet food products every few months. Burkholder
says nutritional advice for people to eat a wide variety of
foods also applies to pets. Doing so helps ensure that a
deficiency doesn't develop for some as yet unknown nutrient
required for good health. When changing pet foods, add the
new food to the old gradually for a few days to avoid
upsetting the pet's digestive system."
While some owners are read labels on the pet food they buy
as carefully as (or more carefully than) they read the
labels on the food they are buying for themselves, not all
pets are getting the proper nutrition. Some animals eat
table scraps in addition to their food, while others just
eat the pet food provided.
Whatever the source of the food, pets can eat too much and
exercise too little -- just as humans can.
"The first diet pill for dogs will soon be available by
prescription in the United States, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) announced. Marketed by US drug maker
Pfizer, Slentrol acts as an appetite suppressor and reduces
lipid (fat) absorption, the FDA said. "This is a welcome
addition to animal therapies, because dog obesity appears
to be increasing," said Stephen Sundlof, director of FDA's
Center for Veterinary Medicine. "Veterinarians are well
aware that overweight pets are at higher risk of developing
various health problems, from cardiovascular conditions to
diabetes to joint problems," he added. "It's a lot about
lifestyle. More people have pets but they don't have a
yard. People don't have the time to run around and play
with dogs and get exercise," said Michael San Filippo,
spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association
Just as inactivity and obesity are becoming more of a
problem for people, animals are seeing the associated
health problems, as well. Having a dog can sometimes
motivate a person to become more active because the dog
needs to go out for walks. On the other hand, an inactive
person can also have an inactive dog (with neither getting
enough exercise and leading sedentary lifestyles).
If a dog does develop health problems, and lifestyle
changes are not enough, a veterinarian may prescribe some
form of medication.
"Some of the Internet sites that sell pet drugs represent
legitimate, reputable pharmacies, says Martine Hartogensis,
D.V.M., promotion and advertising liaison for the FDA's
Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). But others are fronts
for unscrupulous businesses operating in violation of the
law. "Some of these Internet companies are overseas, and
there is a risk of the drugs not being FDA-approved," says
Hartogensis. The FDA has also found companies that sell
counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense
prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and
sell pet drugs that have expired. Pet owners who purchase
drugs from these companies may think they are saving money,
says Hartogensis, but in reality they may be short-changing
their pet's health and putting its life at risk."
In order to prevent some illnesses, animals in the United
States (and other countries) are required to get a certain
number of vaccines. Just as with a human, the places the
animal is planning to be and the lifestyle it leads will
dictate how many -- and which -- vaccines it will need.
"Very young puppies and kittens are highly susceptible to
infectious diseases. This is especially true as the natural
immunity provided in their mothers' milk gradually wears
off. To keep gaps in protection as narrow as possible and
to provide optimal protection against disease for the first
few months of life, a series of vaccinations are scheduled,
usually 3-4 weeks apart. ... Discuss with your veterinarian
your pet's lifestyle, access to other animals, and travel
to other geographic locations, since these factors affect
your pet's risk of exposure to disease. Not all pets should
be vaccinated with all vaccines just because these vaccines
are available. "Core" vaccines are recommended for most
pets in a particular area. "Non-core" vaccines are reserved
for pets with unique needs. Your veterinarian will consider
your pet's particulars, the diseases at hand, and the
application of available vaccines to customize a vaccine
recommendation for your pet."
In addition to getting an animal vaccinated, pet owners can
do other things to help prevent unnecessary illness.
"Every home contains a variety of everyday items and
substances that can be dangerous or even fatal if ingested
by dogs and cats. You can protect your pet's health by
becoming aware of the most common health hazards found in
many pet-owning households. ... Many foods that are
perfectly safe for humans could be harmful or potentially
deadly to dogs and cats. ... Many household cleaners can be
used safely around cats and dogs. However, the key to safe
use lies in reading and following product directions for
proper use and storage. ... Medications that treat human
medical conditions can make pets very sick. Never give your
pet any medication unless directed by your veterinarian.
... Small items that fall on the floor can be easily
swallowed by a curious cat or dog. Such items include
coins, buttons, small children's toys, medicine bottles,
jewelry, nails, and screws. The result may be damage to
your pet's digestive tract and the need for surgical
removal of the object. While electrical cords are
especially tempting to puppies who like to chew on almost
anything, even an adult dog or cat could find them of
interest; burns or electrocution could result from chewing
on live cords. Prevent this by using cord covers and
blocking access to wires."
Before an animal is introduced into a new home, that house
must be carefully checked for hidden hazards. In a similar
way, families with small children take extra care in order
to keep the house as safe as possible for those little
ones. When a home has both pets and small children,
families need to be even more careful.
"Infants and children less than 5 years old are more likely
than most people to get diseases from animals. This is
because young children often touch surfaces that may be
contaminated with animal feces (stool), and young children
like to put their hands in their mouths. Young children are
less likely than others to wash their hands well. ...
* Children younger than 5 years old should be supervised
while interacting with animals.
* Children should not be allowed to kiss pets or to put their hands or other objects into their mouths after handling animals. ... CDC
recommends that infants and children under 5 years old
avoid contact with the following animals: * Reptiles
(lizards, snakes, and turtles), * Amphibians (frogs, toads,
newts, and salamanders), * Baby chicks, * Ducklings,
Additionally, children less than 5 years old
should be extra cautious when visiting farms and having
direct contact with farm animals, including animals at
petting zoos and fairs."
When considering the possibility of adding new animals to
the family, it is important that the health of the animals
-- as well as the health of the people -- are taken into
consideration when deciding what is best for that
particular living situation. Pets are a big responsibility,
but -- if the right match is made -- they can also be a
wonderful addition that can have positive health benefits
for the people in their new family.
"Medical studies on the human-animal bond reveal that pet
owners are more likely to have reduced stress levels,
cholesterol levels and blood pressure. They also experience
fewer heart attacks than people without pets. Researchers
have found that the mere presence of an animal has a
beneficial effect on heart function, and stroking and
talking to a pet reduces blood pressure and stress. Many
hospitals and retirement homes engage in animal therapy.
This may involve visits from volunteer animals or a pet
that is kept at the facility. Seniors with pets are much
less lonely than non-pet owners. Consequently, they do not
make unnecessary visits their doctor out of loneliness. A
study of women undergoing stress tests demonstrated that
the presence of a dog had a greater effect on lowering
blood pressure than the presence of friends. Companion
animals also provide psychological benefits. Pets are
sympathetic, supportive and non-judgemental listeners. Pets
provide us with a distraction from our worries; they
encourage social interaction and provide a soothing
Questions of the Week:
In what situations would adding a pet to a household be a
negative experience for the people, the animals, or both?
In what situations would the addition of a pet be positive?
What should a family consider before deciding to get a pet?
What factors can help a family decide which pet would be
best for them? Once a family has a pet, what health issues
do they need to be aware of that might affect that animal?
What health issues do they need to be aware of that might
affect the people in that home?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum