Hygiene in the Home
Hygiene actually means the practices or science involved in the preservation of health or, put more simply, things that can be done to keep people and animals healthy.
Bugs such as bacteria and viruses are found in a lot more places than you would expect, including on objects in our homes, our pets and ourselves. They can pass between humans, and from humans to animals and animals to humans. Humans and animals can also pick them up from inanimate objects in the environment, and leave them on these objects. These transfers usually happen when we touch or come into contact with something. Most of the time these bugs are harmless and are supposed to be there, and our bodies are designed to prevent them actually infecting us. However, the same principles can also apply to harmful bacteria and viruses which cause disease, and also to bacteria which are resistant to antibiotics.
There are two main reasons for maintaining good hygiene in your home if you have a pet:
• To avoid people in your home picking up diseases from your pets or vice versa (zoonotic diseases).
• To reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance.
These are explained further below.
There are some bugs which can cause disease in both people and animals. These types of diseases are called zoonotic, which just means that they can spread from animals to humans and vice versa. For example, both people and animals can get ringworm, which is a skin infection caused by a fungus. There are therefore some occasions when your pet is sick that you may also be able to catch the disease. The most common types of zoonotic disease that we can catch from dogs and cats are certain bugs (bacteria or parasites) that cause diarrhoea or skin diseases.
It is important to remember that some of the bugs that may spread from animals to people in your home will not necessarily make your pet obviously ill. For example it is quite common for dogs and cats to pick up worm infections (tapeworms and roundworms that live in the intestines) when out and about, but these same parasites can cause serious illness in children. Also, some people may be more susceptible to infections, and can actually get infections from the normally harmless bugs that are on your pet or in the environment. This would include the elderly or those who are already sick. Pregnant women should be careful as there is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that infects cats and can potentially harm their baby. If you are pregnant it is best not to handle or clean cat litter trays.
Good hygiene will help to stop bugs spreading between you and your pet and onto things in your home. This will hopefully reduce the risk of you catching anything from your pet. It is especially important if you have young children or elderly or sick family members as they will be more likely to catch things.
Reducing the spread of antibiotic resistance
One of the worrying things about antibiotic resistance is how quickly these bugs can spread. There are resistant bugs that have moved between countries! We often imagine that antibiotic resistance is mainly spread in hospitals, but some of the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria between people actually occurs in the community. We are less aware of it because generally healthy people probably won’t become ill if they come into contact with resistant bugs, but they may transfer them on to someone else. It is also thought that we can pick up resistant bugs from our pets, and vice versa.
Good hygiene should reduce the spread of bacteria between people and also from pets. This will include antibiotic resistant bacteria and should help reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance.
How to maintain good hygiene
Things you can do to help reduce the spread of bacteria:
• Always wash your hands properly after contact with pets and before eating or handling food. Make sure children also wash their hands properly. Use an antibacterial soap or an antiseptic if possible.
• Regularly clean your home with antibacterial household cleaners, especially areas where your pet has been.
If your pet has a zoonotic disease:
• It may help to keep your pet in areas that are easy to clean, for example areas without carpets, while they are infected.
• Do not allow children or at risk people to pick up faeces or clean litter trays.
• Avoid pets jumping up on surfaces where food is prepared or eaten.
• Always wash your hands after handling your pet.
• Don't kiss and cuddle them.
• Don't let them sleep in the bed.
Disclaimer: This website has been designed to offer information surrounding the use of antibiotics and infection control for pet owners. It does not replace advice from your veterinary surgeon. If you believe your pet is unwell or you have any questions relating to their treatment, please always contact your veterinary surgeon for advice.