Q: Some members of my family feed their dogs and cats from the same dishes that they use. I don’t think it’s healthy. These animals go outdoors too. Can people get diseases from their pets?
A: The subject of dogs and cats licking human dishes or eating out of the same dishes has always been a controversial one
Many people let their animals clean off their dishes for various reasons: It saves them scraping off the leftovers or they feel it is good for their pets to have a treat of human food. They also argue that the dishwasher gets the plates clean enough for people to eat off later.
I wish I could come up with some scientific piece of research that would settle the discussion. I did come across an article written by students for a California state science fair that was titled “Do dogs, cats or humans have the most bacteria in their mouths?”
They collected saliva samples from 10 of each and grew the bacteria in Petri dishes. They discovered that dogs had an average of 53 bacteria colonies, cats averaged 16 and humans had only five.
This seems to contradict some of the myths about dogs having saliva that kills bacteria, so that a dog licking your wounds will help to keep away infection.
I always believed that cats were dirtier than dogs due to their habit of licking their paws after burying their droppings, but apparentlynot so. However, I don’t think it is a good idea to let dogs and cats give you kisses, or if they do, wash your face afterwards.
The main danger from eating something contaminated by dog or cat feces is infestation by parasites. These could be roundworms, hookworms or giardia. Although these parasitic creatures are most commonly found in puppies and kittens, they can occur in older animals.
Young children are the most likely to contract a disease known as lava migrans from ingesting the worm eggs. The parasite larvae can travel to various parts of the body, but most often the skin where they make raised reddish tunnels. However this is rare and I have never seen a case.
Dog and cat feces can be present in carpets, sandpits and anywhere in the back yard or park. Children like to play in the dirt and eat with their fingers, so it is important that they wash their hands before eating.
Also, change the kitty litter daily. Pregnant women should not do this because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, which can seriously affect the unborn child.
Regular deworming of dogs and cats is the best way to eliminate the problem of parasite transmission to humans, whether it be from eating out of the same dishes or from direct contact with their feces. Contact a veterinarian for advice on the best way to do this.
Clare Rowson is a medical doctor with a practice near Belleville, Ont. Her columns are intended for general information only. Individuals are encouraged to also seek the advice of their own doctor regarding medical questions and treatments.