I only have to scroll through a few posts on Facebook or Instagram to see a friend or relative posting a picture…albeit a cute picture…of someone snuggling, kissing, or cuddling an animal. Coming from a farming background, I will warn you, I have many like-minded friends and relatives who believe that cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and even chickens are meant to be snuggled. Horses I can completely understand. Chickens and stinky billy goats, I’m not too sure about!
From a Public Health perspective, antibiotic resistant organisms (AROs) and the concern with treatment options and adverse patient outcomes has become a main stay in the media. The same has been true in the animal health world with concerns of antibiotic resistance in farm animals. This joint focus or movement over the concern of the impact antibiotic resistance in humans and farm animals has been aptly named One Health. Perhaps we need to change our focus from farm animals to the animals we call pets that share our houses, our beds and sometimes the occasional lick of our ice cream cones?
In recent years there have been several studies looking at this topic. The primary question being asked is if humans and pets can share drug-resistant bacteria? In 2014, a study out of the United Kingdom showed that humans and companion animals "readily exchange and share" isolates from the same strain after analyzing different strains of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in cats and dogs. Just last week, researchers in China, who found that a pet shop worker, along with four dogs and two cats, were infected with a strain of Escherichia coli bacteria carrying the MCR-1 gene. As highlighted in this study, since E. coli carrying the MCR-1 gene appears to be easily spread and as it’s not yet curable, we now have more avenues for transmission.
Based on past studies, researchers believed that people may be infected by the food they eat — specifically animal products. Now we need to consider what infections we may get as a result of the pets we keep! I do caution that before we kick our pets to the curb, the truth is that although there is a possibility of disease transmission, the risk is low. Low enough in fact that the risk is often considered to be outweighed by the benefits of pet ownership. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), somewhere between 37% and 47% of all US households own a pet. For some pet owners, the relationship is a close one and such intimate relationships with our pets does increase the chance that some of these resistant bacteria can move back and forth between them and us.
However, all is not lost. Good hygiene practices such as not letting your pet lick your face (or you not kissing your pet’s face) and washing your hands after petting, snuggling, cuddling or picking up their poop (especially before you eat) are good precautions to take. Another way to minimize yours and your pet’s risk for sharing bugs is by taking your pet to the vet for regular check-ups and keeping vaccinations current. After all, a healthy pet is much less likely to carry diseases that can infect you!