Pets as a Source of Zoonotic Disease: an Investigation into Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Related to Pet Contact and Associated Zoonoses in Low and High Disease-risk Households
The mental and physical benefits of pet ownership are well established; however, pets can also transmit pathogens to people, with children, elderly, pregnant and immunocompromised individuals at greatest risk of disease. Little is known about the public’s knowledge and practices related to pet-associated disease. Questionnaires were distributed at two general practice physician clinics and to parents/guardians of children diagnosed with diabetes or cancer at specialty practice clinics. Pet ownership and contact were common, with 64-66% of participants having a pet in their household. Acquisition of a new pet, including high-risk pets, was common (20%) following a diagnosis of cancer in children. Pet exposure outside the home was frequently reported for individuals in pet and non-pet owning households (25-52%). Education of respondents about diseases was poor, as only approximately one-third recalled receiving pet-associated disease information. Parents of cancer patients were more likely than parents of diabetes patients to recall receiving this information, yet proportions were low in both groups (32% and 13%, respectively). Respondents’ knowledge of pet-associated pathogens was similar between the groups, with pet owners and parents of diabetic children having higher knowledge. Pet (30-36%) and non-pet (~10%) owning households reported dog/cat bites or scratches during the preceding year. Within the general practice respondents, lower-risk households did not differ from higher-risk households regarding perceived disease risk of pets, zoonotic disease knowledge, recall of being asked by their medical provider if they owned pets, or recall of having received information regarding pet-associated disease risks and preventive measures. Pet ownership, husbandry and infection control practices were similar between low- and high-risk households. Husbandry practices that increase zoonotic disease risk were frequently identified, including feeding high-risk diets, allowing children to clean up fecal material and allowing reptiles to roam through the kitchen. With few exceptions, practices were not associated with the presence of higher-risk members in the household or recall of having previously received zoonotic disease education. There is a need for improved education on zoonotic disease prevention practices for pet- and non pet-owning households, particularly those with individuals at higher risk of infection and those with high-risk species.