Washing hands in sink

As a veterinarian, I am always an advocate for the better health of your pet, and of all animals. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. But did you know that like all veterinarians, I’m also part of the big picture when it comes to keeping your human family healthy as well?

It’s true: We veterinarians take an oath that includes a commitment to human health. That doesn’t mean you can show us a rash and ask what we think, but it does mean when we talk to you about your pet’s health, we also have your health in mind. 

Veterinarians don’t see you and your pet all the time. That does limit the advice we can offer, although nowadays many veterinary practices send out electronic newsletters with timely information. Since I’m fortunate to have a larger stage than many of my colleagues, I consider it my responsibility to work even harder to keep people informed.

My motto is “Keep the pet, lose the risk.” With that in mind, here are three easy (and virtually free) things that you can do in caring for your pet that will help protect the health of the rest of your family.

Serve and Store Food Safely

Everyone needs to know the rules for safe food handling. With 48 million cases of food-borne illness annually (and 3,000 deaths), it’s important to start with the proper handling of your own food. And I bet not many readers are ill-informed enough to eat potato salad that has been left out on a picnic table too long. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a useful overview of food safety rules, if you need a refresher.)

But what about your pet’s food? Kibble is the main way our pets get their meals, and even though it looks safe to handle — and usually is — you should never take safety for granted. Outbreaks of Salmonella in pet foods and treats are not uncommon, and that’s why the FDA also offers guidelines for handling pet food as well. It’s just common sense: Wash your hands after feeding your pets (and make your children do the same), and wash pet dishes, can openers and utensils with warm, soapy water.

Pick Up After Your Pet

I get it: No one likes to scoop the poop or clean the litterbox. But doing so every day — and disposing of the waste properly — will go a long way toward protecting your family from the transmission of the parasites pets routinely carry. For pregnant women, of course, special cautions apply: Someone else should clean the litterbox to help prevent the transmission of Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause birth defects. The Companion Animal Parasite Council has some guidelines to help.

If you have outdoor cats — or your neighbors do — put a cover on your child’s sandbox. That should keep that tempting sand from attracting cats looking for a litterbox. Oh, and again: Wash your hands. There’s just no downside to it!

Keep Your Pets Clean

Good grooming isn’t just about appearances. Regular bathing with a specially formulated pet shampoo for dogs and a weekly rinse in clean water for cats has been shown to reduce the allergies many people have to pets. Even if you aren’t allergic to your pets themselves, you may have a reaction to what your four-legged Swiffer picks up on his or her fur. You’ll both feel better if you keep your pets well-groomed. And an added bonus: huggability!

You can easily work these strategies into your pet-care regimen, and the benefits are real. It’s worth the time and effort to reduce the small health risk having a pet represents.

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