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Vets urge dog owners to be more vigilant


DOGS should not be allowed to sleep in or on their owners’ beds, or even in the same room in case they pass on diseases, the country’s chief vet has warned. Global warming may even be making the threat of zoonotic diseases – those passed across the species barrier to humans – even greater.

However, pets may in turn be infected by chemicals and toxins which form part and parcel of 21st century life.

Fred Landeg, who is the Government’s acting Chief Veterinary Officer, has urged people to be more vigilant about their household pets, as new research has indicated that they can transmit illnesses just as easy as farm animals.

Among diseases thought to be carried by dogs are common food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter and salmonella as well as more exotic diseases which have allegedly become more prevalent since the relaxation of quarantine and the increase of global warning.

Dr Landeg said: “When you look at new and emerging diseases many are zoonotic and passable from animals to man. We can think recently of Sars, which came from animals and another disease, the Hendra virus, from bats. As a veterinary surgeon I would never advise people to keep dogs in their bedroom.”

Chemical

According to a new American research study, exposure to common household chemicals affect our pets and these toxins may determine diseases such as cancer, or hyperthyroidism.

Researchers for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit research organisation from Washington, DC, USA examined blood and urine samples collected from 40 households cats and 20 household dogs. They found high levels of industrial chemicals in dogs and cats, including mercury, probably from the fish served as pet food, and chemicals used in the making of furniture, fabrics and electronics.

Researchers tracked the presence of 70 chemicals in the animals' bodies and more than a half of these substances were present in the pet's bodies. 43 of them were at a higher level than the typical level usually found in humans. Stain- and grease-proofing coating chemicals (perfluorochemicals) were 2.4 times higher in the dogs than in people. Fire retardants (PBDEs) were found at levels 23 times higher in cats than in people and the cats’ mercury levels were 5 times higher, the MedHeadlines noted. The results were compared to the conclusions of national studies lead by the EWG and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A study made by Greenpeace UK showed, three years ago, that numerous toxic chemicals were present in the umbilical-cord blood of newborn babies.

Industrial chemicals used in clothing, toys, or cosmetics have their place in our blood and affect our pets. The high level of industrial chemicals may be the main cause of the high rate of cancer in dogs, and of hyperthyroidism in cats.

Unaware

Back in the UK, Dr Landeg’s comments follow a report commissioned by DEFRA published last week that found many owners were unaware that their pets could carry dangerous diseases such as MRSA.

The survey of 260 households in a semi-rural town in the South Wirral, Merseyside where most pets found that almost 20 per cent of dogs slept in the bedroom and 14 per cent on a person’s bed.

The research, carried out by Liverpool University and published in The Veterinary Record, also found that 42 per cent of dogs slept in the kitchen and 79 per cent were fed in the kitchen. When dogs were left at home 24 per cent were kept in the kitchen.

While Dr Landeg warned of the potential risks of owning a dog, he also pointed out that there were positive health benefits.

Numerous studies have shown that people who walk dogs tend to be fitter and have lower blood pressure than those people who do not own dogs, whilst pet owners have also been shown to have quicker recovery times following operations.

Next year the Government may be forced to water-down its current pet passport rules under the PETS Travel Scheme, which was introduced in 2000 on cats and dogs coming into the UK under new EU legislation.

As the law currently stands, all pets must be dewormed and deloused before they are able to enter the country. However, the European Commission wants to relax the laws as it does not believe this is necessary, despite the growing body of evidence that indicates that parasitic infection of dogs and cats is spreading rapidly across Europe, with many species of parasite found in warmer climes now being found much further north in traditionally colder area.

Climate change

Last week, the International Veterinary Symposium in Wiesbaden, Germany posed the question as to whether climate change has already altered the geographical spread of blood-sucking parasites and therefore the risk of parasite-transmitted diseases.

As previously reported in OUR DOGS, research has shown that ticks, for example, pose a special threat to dogs. Dogs naturally spend a lot of time in zones of highest risk: grassland and forests. The tiny arachnids can transmit infectious diseases such as Lyme borreliosis. Dogs in warmer regions, such as the Mediterranean area, which stay outside at night are additionally exposed to sand flies looking for a blood meal - potential transmitters of leishmaniosis.

New evidence for a changing parasitic landscape and an increasing risk of infection comes from the 3rd International CVBD Symposium, supported by Bayer HealthCare, Animal Health Division. The term CVBD (canine vector-borne diseases) refers to parasite-transmitted infectious diseases in dogs. Many of them may affect humans as well. Leading experts in natural sciences, veterinary and human medicine from Europe, North America and Asia met for two days last week in Wiesbaden, Germany, to discuss current scientific data and future developments in the field of these diseases.

Sand flies were found as far north as the Midwest of Germany in summer 2007, and the first proof of winter-active sand flies on the island Corsica were detected in February 2008. Dr. Torsten Naucke, a German parasitologist working for the organisation "Parasitus Ex", said that these are two indicators for an increasing distribution of sand flies and their prolonged seasonal activity due to climate change. However, it has still to be proven that this particular sand fly species is responsible for eleven cases of (human/canine/feline/equine) leishmaniosis in Germany since 1991 which cannot be attributed to travel activity.

Leishmaniosis is a major disease in more than 70 countries in the world (recently even found in the US). The number of infected dogs in Italy, Spain, France and Portugal, amounts to about 2.5 million.

In direct comparison of two national surveys based on information from veterinary clinics, Dr. Patrick Bourdeau from the Ecole Nationale Veterinaire de Nantes, France, saw a substantial expansion of leishmaniosis in his country. The number of areas where clinics reported more than 50 cases a year doubled from 1986 to 2004. Asked about two relevant tick-borne diseases of the dog in 2006/2007, 27% of the veterinarians considered an increase of ehrlichiosis in their practice, 36% of Lyme borreliosis.