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Open Access Research article

Pet husbandry and infection control practices related to zoonotic disease risks in Ontario, Canada

Jason W Stull124*, Andrew S Peregrine12, Jan M Sargeant23 and J Scott Weese12

Author affiliations

1 Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G2W1 Canada

2 Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G2W1, Canada

3 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G2W1 Canada

4 Current address: Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, The Ohio State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, 1920 Coffey Rd., Columbus, OH 43210, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Public Health 2013, 13:520  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-520

Published: 29 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Many human infections are transmitted through contact with animals (zoonoses), including household pets. Despite this concern, there is limited knowledge of the public’s pet husbandry and infection control practices. The objective of this study was to characterize zoonotic disease related-husbandry and infection preventive practices in pet-owning households in Ontario, Canada.

Methods

A self-administered questionnaire was distributed to individuals at two multi-physician clinics in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada during 2010. One adult from each household was invited to participate in the study.

Results

Four hundred one pet-owners completed the questionnaire. Households reported ownership of dogs (68%), cats (48%), fish (13%), exotic mammals (7%), such as hamsters, and reptiles and birds (each 6%). Across all species, individuals at higher risk of infections (i.e. < 5yrs, ≥ 65yrs, immunocompromised) were often (46-57%) present in households. Children < 16 yrs of age had close pet contact, as households reported dogs (13%) and cats (30%) usually slept in a child’s bed and dogs often licked a child’s face (24%). Household husbandry practices that increase zoonotic disease risk were frequently identified; some fed high-risk foods (i.e. raw eggs, raw meat, or raw animal product treats) to their dogs (28%) or cats (3%); 14% of reptile-owning households allowed the pet to roam through the kitchen or washed it in the kitchen sink. Reported hand washing by children was high for all species (> 76% washed hands sometimes or greater after touching the pet, its feces, or housing), although fewer reported children always washed their hands (3-57%; by species). With a 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.

Conclusions

The results suggest there is a need for education on zoonotic disease prevention practices for pet-owning households with individuals at higher risk of infection and those with high-risk species (e.g., reptiles). Further research is needed to determine the role of education in altering higher risk pet practices.

Keywords:
Zoonoses; Pet; Education; Infection; Husbandry; Canada