IT WAS bound to happen. I had just picked up an abandoned, filthy-looking mutt off the street, with only an old towel for protection. After we had decided to keep her, I wore gloves whenever I handled her for the first couple of weeks, as she had been diagnosed with skin problems and worms.
One night, I woke up at around 2 a.m. to unbearable itching around my bellybutton, the insides of my elbows, and – horrors – around my breasts!
When I went to see a dermatologist the next day for a different problem (toxic sea creature stings, but that’s another story), I asked her what the symptoms of scabies infection were. She smiled, amused, and said, “Exactly what you’re doing,” referring to my incessant scratching of my belly, which had gotten red and raw.
“Scabies is a parasitic infection that you can get from dogs with skin problems,” explains Dr. Nick Carpio of the Carveldon Veterinary Center at Cartimar in Pasay City (tel. no. 556-2885). “Unfortunately, these little bugs can also transfer to, and bite, humans and cause severe itch. You get little red spots on your skin that look like allergies.”
It is, Doc Nick says, just one of many diseases you can get from animals, especially if they aren’t kept clean. It took treatment with a potent lotion prescribed by my dermatologist, which I had to slather all over my body and leave on overnight, to stop the itching.
Oh, but there are other parasites, or organisms that live off other organisms, that are just as scary. Hookworms come from dog feces, and the larvae can actually crawl under human skin, a very irritating experience, says Doc Nick. From cat feces, there’s toxoplasmosis, which can be so lethal for pregnant women it can actually induce an abortion, so you need to see a physician for this. Then, there are the more common ticks and fleas, which can bite humans and result in skin irritation, swelling, even fevers and rickets-like symptoms that can affect the bones.
As always, keeping both themselves and their pets safe is entirely in people’s hands. Dogs and cats can be protected from parasites through regular deworming and treatment for fleas and ticks, either through good shampoos or topical ant-flea treatments; consult a vet about this.
Ringworms are a fungal infection primarily affecting the skin, resulting in round, red patches on the skin of dogs or cats. “Direct contact with human skin can have the same effect,” says Doc Nick. To prevent fungal infections in animals, use specialized shampoos and treatments, but basically, make sure pets are regularly bathed and dried properly.
In terms of bacteria, beware of a whole new set of disease-causing organisms. There’s the infamous cat scratch disease, which can be transmitted when your infected cat scratches, bites, or even licks you. “Don’t feed your cats any undercooked meat so they don’t contract this,” advises Doc Nick. “Avoid cleaning litter boxes with your bare hands; use gloves.” In fact, when handling any animal excrement or areas where they poo or pee, wearing gloves, or at the very least thoroughly washing the hands afterwards, is a must.
Leptospirosis, a deadly killer of animals as well as people, especially if the human’s immune system is weak, is contracted from rat urine. There’s a vaccination for dogs that protects against this, but people and animals should basically watch out for dirty surroundings and stagnant water, especially when wading through flooded streets.
The last two problems, I like to think, are pretty karmic: the tetanus bacteria and the rabies virus, both of which can kill humans who eat the meat of infected dogs. “Rabies, in particular, is one of the deadliest viruses today,” says Doc Nick. “Any animal, domestic or wild, can transmit this disease through a deep bite or saliva ingestion. Studies show that eating dogs or any rabid animal can have the same effect. Symptoms are salivating and brain dysfunction that lead to death.”
If you still eat dog meat, then you deserve what you get (sorry, couldn’t resist that). However, there are anti-rabies laws that require domestic animals to be properly vaccinated, and pet owners should ensure that pets get their shots and are not allowed to roam freely without proper supervision so hey don’t endanger others.
People always claim to be wary of the dirt and diseases animals bring, and use that as an excuse not to have animals in their lives. But the fact is, many of these problems can be easily avoided with responsible pet ownership. Bring your pets to the vet at least annually for shots and a check-up, and maintain their surroundings. Make sure the area where they do their business is exposed to sunlight and easy to clean. Bathe them regularly, feed them well, and be alert to any changes in their behavior or habits. Doctors recommend a weekly once-over—that is, check your pet’s body for something that wasn’t there before, from rashes and dirt to wounds and bugs, which can jeopardize your own well-being.
Always wash or sterilize your hands after extended pet handling, especially before you eat. There are bottles of alcohol all over my house. The more you care for your pets, the greater the joy they bring you. My two dogs sleep on doggie beds beside mine, and Kikay, the former scabies-infested mutt, sometimes jumps into bed with me. She and her Ate Banana get their snouts, paws, anuses, and genitals swiped with alcohol wipes after every walk. They bathe once a week, are dewormed regularly, get their shots annually, and are treated for ticks and fleas. I brush and groom them, spray them with an insect-repelling pet cologne, and treat their surroundings with an organic disinfectant and deodorizer about thrice a week so they aren’t exposed to toxins. I am also diligent about cleaning everything they eat. Needless to say, my babies have never made me sick, and have only helped to make me happier and healthier.
If you took my pets away from me – now, that would kill me. •